Keeper of the faith
Walking through the lobby of the Burlington Hotel after the Irish Tax Institute dinner, Paschal Donohoe crouched down to politely talk to the young children of Frank Mitchell.
Mitchell is president of the institute and had delivered a lively address to his colleagues, bringing his family along for the occasion last Friday night. Donohoe had given his own speech and, in between references to BEPS, fiscal strategies and REIT regimes, he did drop breadcrumbs on the path ahead.
Reiterating his commitment to the political centre, the Finance Minister said it was challenging to motivate people behind a message of "pragmatism, compromise and incremental change" when other voices are offering simpler solutions.
"The centre cannot be the same as the status quo. For too many it is. The centre must respond. We will."
Donohoe didn't sound like a man heading for the opposition benches. The centre has shifted left, leaving Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It's now time to adapt or die.
Donohoe has again been reading Arthur Schlesinger, the American historian and intellectual whose 1949 book 'The Vital Centre' was a rallying cry for liberalism, democracy and the centre-ground holding against the twin threats of totalitarianism and conservatism.
Adapting the philosophy to a modern day, polarised political world, the "pragmatism and compromise" has to be accompanied by faster change on housing, health, climate and opportunities for those left behind by economic progress.
Where the last two governments focused on the vital issues of the economy and Brexit, the next administration will have to be about solving problems central to people's day-to-day lives.
Policies are all terribly nice, delivery is what matters. Afflicting the comfortable to comfort the afflicted will also be required to shake things up.
Donohoe has a vision of the centre becoming what Schlesinger called a "fighting faith", a system firmly answering the needs of society.
There's a view in the Fine Gael hierarchy that Micheál Martin is in the same space as the Fianna Fáil leader talks of tackling the major concerns of people, taking "a new direction for Ireland".
Eamon Ryan certainly fits the category of someone who wants to implement an agenda different to what's gone before and the Green Party is not aiming to please all of the people all of the time.
Getting to a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party "fighting faith" is another matter.
The new-found radicalism has not extended to the pace of talks on the formation of a government.
The Dáil will meet for a second time today, almost a month on from the General Election and there's nothing resembling a coalition ready to form. And yet much has changed in those four weeks.
The opening salvo of the Brexit trade negotiations show there is no guarantee Boris Johnson won't renege on the much-vaunted deal to ensure no border on the island. The coronavirus crisis ensures there's plenty to talk about in Leinster House, but the contagion is the lack of urgency on forming a coalition.
The business community is banking on a grand coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Stocks took a hammering when it looked like Sinn Féin was coming into power, but recovered when it waned, especially after Martin so firmly ruled it out.
A Davy Stockbrokers conference call with investors 10 days ago had a special guest on the line from its Dawson Street HQ in Dublin.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was on hand to explain the complexities of the government formation talks.
Ahern is a respected analyst domestically and is well-known internationally.
His main message was the only way the numbers added up was a coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens.
However, he felt there was real opposition to such an alliance in the parties.
When he was asked to rate the likelihood of it coming off, he put it at 90pc.
Nothing is guaranteed.
A Fianna Fáil senator currently out on the Seanad election trail meeting councillors has a good handle on the mood from the party faithful.
"They're genuinely p***ed off. They don't want to go in with Sinn Féin, but they don't want to go in with Fine Gael either - and they definitely don't want a general election."
A former Fianna Fáil minister is among the many sceptics though, believing it would be the death-knell for both parties.
"That's not what people voted for. It would end Civil War politics, bring Sinn Féin in and you'd have a realignment of politics," they said.
Within Fine Gael, there is a definite sense the party is heading for government - not opposition - now.
But there is an impatience to get it over with. Small business owners are contacting TDs saying they have to go in for the sake of the country.
"People are getting fed up. It's been noticeable in the last 10 days," a TD said.
"Whatever about a second election, there could be numerous elections.
"Look at the Israeli situation with a political system not dissimilar to ours.
"It's time to get on with it.
"A national coalition will last five years. It just has to be formed."
The international impact of the Covid-19 virus has raised the prospect of the short onset of a recession.
There will be little public patience for a zombie government with no power to take any action.
The horrors of a second war
Considering the parties were practically in government together for the past four years - or so the voters believe - and there is precious little policy difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the level of progress is embarrassing.
Early May is still the estimate for an outcome of some sort.
There are also worries about the Greens' young idealists. The internal strife about Seanad nominations last week was viewed as a sign of what's to come down the track.
The price to be paid for getting the Greens into government will be high, especially as any deal has to go through a party convention.
The Civil War parties are united though in their horror at the thought of a second general election.
Whatever about turning around their fortunes during a five-year term in office, neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil fancies returning to the voters again in the coming months.
The public mood has not changed in four weeks. If anything, it's hardened.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is happy to let the other two medium-sized parties agonise.
The coronavirus put a halt to its rallies, but the public meetings served a purpose.
"During the peace process, we would constantly have gone back to the membership as you do get interaction. If there was a problem or a burning issue, it would have come up at those meetings. It's also important to maintain that momentum," a strategist said.
Sinn Féin left a rake of seats behind it in the General Election due to a lack of candidates. In a second election scenario, here's a bunch that falls - for starters. And this is before any further increase in the party's support, which polls since the results say is still on the rise.
Mary Lou McDonald's running mate would have an easy task. The candidate would be based in the north inner city. The party hierarchy seems to rate Belinda Nugent, who missed out on a council seat, more highly than Janice Boylan, the local councillor in the area. Social Democrat Gary Gannon would be in bother.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh was only 300 votes off two quotas. Senator Máire Devine is very much in favour but was taken off the ticket in the post-local elections panic. People Before Profit's Bríd Smith would be hit, but more so Independents4Change's Joan Collins as Devine hails from the same patch.
Seán Crowe, or Jack as the Shinners refer to him, has no shortage of running mates. Cathal King in Tallaght is the most obvious, but soon-to-be senator and former MEP Lynn Boylan is originally from Kilnamanagh and lives next door in Clondalkin. Either way, it's probably cheerio to Rise's Paul Murphy.
DUBLIN BAY NORTH
While Denise Mitchell got the country's biggest vote, Councillor Micheál Mac Donncha should have coasted in at Social Democrat Cian O'Callaghan's expense.
Dessie Ellis had plenty of votes for two seats. Although he's also from Ellis's Finglas base, Anthony Connaghan is the best qualified running mate. Fianna Fáil's Paul McAuliffe is most vulnerable.
Louise O'Reilly had well over a quota and a half but there's no certain running mate, with Swords-based councillor Ann Graves being the best available option. Labour's Duncan Smith would then be in the danger zone.
David 'Up the Ra' Cullinane got fierce excited with his 20,000 votes. With the city covered, he'd need a county running mate, so the capable Conor McGuinness in Dungarvan fits the bill. Green Marc Ó Cathasaigh would be an endangered species.
Brian Stanley in Laois would need an Offaly colleague, with former councillor Sean Maher in Birr best placed to take out Independent Carol Nolan.
The only place where the party didn't have a candidate was crying out for change. Sure a Soc Dem accidentally finished fourth in the end, for God's sake. Former MEP Liadh Ní Riada lives there but if she didn't want to run, they'd just have to find a candidate somewhere. Anywhere. Fianna Fáil's Michael or Aindrias Moynihan would be sweating.
Never fertile ground for the Shinners, the leafy southside Dublin suburbs making up Dublin Rathdown and Dún Laoghaire stubbornly refused to elect Sorcha Nic Chormaic and Shane O'Brien. The party would have to consider parachuting in more high-profile names, like Lynn Boylan, to capitalise.
IN THE HUNT
There were close runs for Louis O'Hara in Galway East, Séighin Ó Ceallaigh in Limerick County and Paul Hayes in Cork South-West. A slightly better day and they'd probably be across the line. A further Sinn Féin surge and then way more second seats easily come into play, along with going for third seats in Louth and Donegal.