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Ladies and gentlemen I give you the next government

Jody Corcoran


Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pictured as he arrived at RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pictured as he arrived at RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pictured as he arrived at RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate. Picture: Frank McGrath

I believe I know what that government is going to be.

This view is based on analysing opinion polls, listening to what the party leaders have said – such as Brendan Howlin – and working it out from there.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your new government: Fianna Fail, the Green Party, the Social Democrats and a small group of like minded Independents, supported by Labour from Opposition in a new confidence and supply agreement. In other words, a bit of a muddle, but stable enough all the same. Ireland is about to go centre-left.

There will be an awful schmozzle for about three weeks after the votes are counted before such a government is put in place; in the end though, this government, I believe, will emerge and also, crucially, will just about meet the public’s demand for change.

In that schmozzle there will be loads of speculation about deals between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein; Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, and possibly even negotiations behind the scenes between representatives of some or all of those parties, but they will come to nought.

That is because too much has been said and done in this campaign about and between the three main parties – FF, FG, SF – for a permutation of any such government to be formed.

The only possible alternative to the government I have outlined above is Fianna Fail and the Greens, supported by Fine Gael in a confidence and supply arrangement, but I do not think such a government will meet the public’s demand for change.

In the immediate aftermath, this Sunday and next week, a lot of talk will be around Sinn Fein. Mary Lou McDonald’s party will have a considerable mandate. Sinn Fein will do well, winning in or around 30 seats and the party will demand its place in power as a result. The other main parties are finding it increasingly difficulty to deny that mandate, although nobody is obliged to go into government with Sinn Fein. An increased mandate for Fianna Fail, the Greens and Social Democrats will be just as legitimate.

After the events of this week, and all that has emerged and been said, I believe it will be impossible for either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael to go into government with Sinn Fein, tempted though some TDs in both parties will be. So something else must happen.

In this regard, the most relevant finding in the opinion polls taken during the campaign related to one question: which political party or parties, if any, would you not like to see in government after the election? Of the three main parties, over 30pc said, in order, Sinn Fein and Fine Gael - but just 23pc said Fianna Fail.

In other words, Fianna Fail will in my view, not only command the largest first preference share of the vote but, as importantly, will be by far the more transfer friendly of the three, an opinion poll finding that holds across all demographics of political party allegiance, age, social class and geographic location. Perhaps more than at any other time in living memory, this poll finding will be central to the eventual outcome.

To put this in the form of a conundrum that might be perplexing and understandable at the same time: many Fine Gael supporters will transfer to Fianna Fail to keep Sinn Fein out, such is their alarm at the prospect of Belfast in power; and many Sinn Fein supporters will transfer to Fianna Fail in the hope that a deal can be done and of getting into power.

That is why, for example, Micheal Martin has said, at least three times this week that his difficulty is not with Sinn Fein voters, whom he respects, but with the set up and operation of that party itself. He was referring in particular to those who have not voted for Sinn Fein before but are determinedly minded to do so this time. In other words, Fianna Fail is looking for their transfers.

These voters, five to eight per cent of the total electorate, are most anxious for change. But let us not forget, Sinn Fein does not have enough candidates in the field to meet the potential demand. In Dublin, it is running two candidates in just one of 11 constituencies. On Sunday there will also be a lot of talk about the seats Sinn Fein has left behind.

So, in urban areas Sinn Fein voters can be expected to mostly transfer to the Greens and Social Democrats, with a tick to a Fianna Fail candidate who has worked hard on the ground and, well, because Fianna Fail is republican and not Fine Gael; and in rural areas they will mostly transfer to Fianna Fail and Independents. In all scenarios, Fianna Fail will benefit to a greater or lesser extent.

As a result, I expect Fianna Fail to win between 55 and 60 seats. The Greens will win 10 seats on a good day and more on a great day; and the Social Democrats will win three, maybe four. So between them, Fianna Fail, the Greens and the Social Democrats will win between 70 and 75 seats.

Now let us turn to the Independents: candidates such as, say, Marian Harkin, and Katherine Zappone (if she holds her seat) and others on the centre and centre left would appeal to the Greens and Social Democrats in government. Boxer Moran will be there or thereabouts too.

And there will be a fair few of what Leo Varadkar might call “backwoodsmen” gene pool Fianna Fail Independent TDs – let us say five Independent TDs all in, which would take this prospective government close to the required 80-seat majority.

In the first week of the campaign, Labour leader, Brendan Howlin said it was Labour’s intention, or hope, to be in the next government; but – and this is forgotten - he also said Labour would be open to a confidence and supply deal with an ideologically compatible administration.

I believe Labour will do well to hold seven seats on this occasion. In such circumstances, I expect the party will decide to go into opposition under an eventual new leader and rebuild on a platform of having provided three or four years of relatively stable government.

Sinn Fein will not easily accept such an outcome. As the prospect of power slips away, Mary Lou McDonald’s party may even announce its support for the Special Criminal Court, or contrive to transfer the party’s powerbase from Belfast to Dublin. In such circumstances, Leo Varadkar will be sorely tempted to do a deal, and a schmozzle may ensue for a while.

But no, to coin a phrase, on this occasion Sinn Fein must wait…and further evolve. So, for what it is worth, that is how I see this most interesting and demonstrative election campaign working out, an outcome albeit a little frustrating and somewhat stillborn in the end.

Online Editors