As a rule, politicians don’t say what they mean. It isn’t that they are averse to telling the truth, but they know that having to please most of the people at least some of the time means unadulterated honesty is not an option.
So when Tánaiste Leo Varadkar declared, in language as plain and wholesome as mammy’s brown soda bread, that a Fine Gael coalition with Sinn Féin after the next election was not going to happen, it was worth noting.
He told RTÉ’s This Week In Politics that “oil and water don’t mix” and while he didn’t elaborate on which was which (Sinn Féin being the more flammable liquid, one would imagine), his sentiment was crystal-clear. The Taoiseach-in-waiting went on to explain that as the main opposition party was leftist, populist and Eurosceptic, there couldn’t possibly be a shared platform.
While his declaration was convincing, the explanation was less so. Fine Gael have shared a Cabinet table with polar opposites before and might do so again.
Indeed, ever since democracy was a boy in short trousers, realpolitik and avarice regularly swatted away inconvenient obstacles like policy or ideological principle.
The real reason Fine Gael – descendants of Cumann na nGaedheal, after all – will not coalesce with Sinn Féin has much more to do with the fundamentals of history and heritage.
Cumann na nGaedheal were the advocates of the divisive Treaty and custodian of the subsequent Free State, which came into existence just short of a century ago. Seeing off those recalcitrant republicans who tried to strangle the newly independent Ireland at birth, and standing for law and order ever after, is Fine Gael’s moral raison d’etre.
This was the reason why, until a short few years ago, Fine Gael and multi-generational rivals Fianna Fáil could not stand the sight of each other. But that rivalry slowly diluted over time. Both paddle in the same ideological pool and are, at the moment, even happy to share a canoe.
There was a fresh reminder this weekend when Gerry Adams posted a selfie
This version of Sinn Féin is different. While Fianna Fáil, under Éamon de Valera, eventually re-imagined independent Ireland in its own likeness, the current main opposition party still steadfastly refuses to openly recognise the State it wishes to govern.
There was a fresh reminder this weekend when Gerry Adams posted a selfie on social media from a memorial to anti-Treaty republicans killed at Ballyseedy, Co Kerry, in 1923. Earlier, Mary Lou McDonald tweeted in honour of Irregulars martyred in 1922, also after taking up arms against the fledgling democratic state.
To share power with Sinn Féin in the face of such blatant trolling would pose nothing less than an existential crisis for Fine Gael and its core voters.
But Dev’s old party might be a softer touch. In February of last year, a poll indicated that as many as 20 Fianna Fáil TDs saw the possibilities of going into power with Sinn Féin. Oil and water might defy physics after all.