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We must not rule out the presence of new parties in the next coalition


Head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras waves while leaving the party headquarters after winning the elections in Athens. Reuters

Head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras waves while leaving the party headquarters after winning the elections in Athens. Reuters


Head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras waves while leaving the party headquarters after winning the elections in Athens. Reuters

According to the Irish Independent-Today FM opinion poll, 60pc of us want to see a new political party formed. Nothing could be simpler than the reason for this desire: dissatisfaction with the existing parties. But nothing could be more complicated than the issues that surround it.

The desire, and the issues, are visible all around Europe. But they have been greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Last Sunday, Syriza won the Greek election in a canter. It had fought on a single issue, debt forgiveness. Partly for that reason, it is described everywhere as a far-left party. This tag is misleading.

Debt forgiveness is no longer a fringe issue. Syriza has brought it, sensationally, into the centre of the debate.

But it is not merely a Greek debate. It poses a threat to the entire European monetary system, All EU countries, even the most conservative, have to take it seriously. And a growing number of economists are challenging the conventional wisdom.

Eventually, in my opinion, the confrontations with Germany and the ECB will conclude with another compromise and the common currency will survive. But not before we have suffered many uneasy moments.

And in the meantime most of our rulers are looking in the wrong direction.

One might have thought that hard-left parties would exploit the seemingly unending financial crisis. Not so. The Irish fringe is a good example of irrelevancy and irresponsibility, praising the Bolshevik Revolution and insulting the President.

In neighbouring countries, the threats come from the right. What has happened in France is tragic in two ways.

The Paris massacre was followed by a beautiful example of decency, fortitude and attempted reconciliation. Then came a dismaying outburst of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The winner seems to be Marine Le Pen, who is now expected to poll highest in the first round of the next French presidential election.

UKIP in Britain has scared David Cameron into making unwise decisions. Scotland's future has not been secured, and a referendum on EU membership could take Britain out of the European Union.

And here at home we have a party which calls itself left-wing but exhibits many characteristics of the extreme right. This week, Martin McGuinness made the extraordinary claim that a united Ireland is "within our grasp". As Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Mr McGuinness should be striving to make the Northern settlement work, instead of trying to undermine it. And he should accept that nobody did more than the Provisional IRA to make Irish unity impossible.

With so much to fret us on our doorstep, we should perhaps give thanks that the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition has given us a degree of recovery and stability.

But hardly anyone imagines that it will get the reward it longs for, a second term for the Coalition.

At the general election, even in the best case, Fine Gael's core vote will fall well below its spectacular result in 2011 and Labour will do well to hold even a handful of its existing seats. There is virtually no chance of a Fine Gael-Labour Dáil majority.

It was therefore perfectly sensible for Simon Coveney to suggest a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition. And it was not a new idea. It has been in the air, one way or the other, for half a century.

Again, that was far from a new idea. The Independent deputy Stephen Donnelly is only the latest of many worthy people who have proposed it from time to time. But there is a huge obstacle. In the nature of things, a social democratic alliance should have Labour at its core. But on present form, Labour after the election will be in no position to lead anything.

So we may have to go all the way back to 1948 to look for multi-party options.

They do exist. We could, conceivably, have a coalition that includes a Creighton party, a Ross-Fitzmaurice party, and even a Donnelly party if Mr Donnelly decides to end his present isolation.

Such a scenario, however, would look extremely odd because, of course, it would be extremely odd. It would exclude two of the three main parties if (as we can fairly safely assume) Labour does not form part of it.

Labour's situation would be intriguing. In order to have a platform from which in the first place it could make its presence felt, and secondly to face the long road back to a normal position in the spectrum, it would need, at a guess, about a dozen Dáil seats, and that prospect appears most unlikely.

In any new coalition, one can assume that a few Independents and minor-party representatives would get office. This, however, need cause no dismay. Many good governments have been composed largely or indeed completely of people who never previously held public office.

And many seemingly unlikely people have turned into stars.

But can any fulfil the half-expressed but intensely felt wishes of the 60pc who told the pollsters that they wanted a new party?

The Greek voters got what they wanted, a new political landscape. We can expect nothing as dramatic as that when we go to the polls to elect a new Dáil.

But the Greeks, with their new party and its dashing new leader, have changed one thing for us, as well as themselves.

Debt forgiveness is back on the Irish agenda.

Irish Independent