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Editorial: 'Voters must choose carefully whole way down ballot paper'

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'Voters have to choose carefully and pay some attention to the outline of all parties' policies' (stock photo)

'Voters have to choose carefully and pay some attention to the outline of all parties' policies' (stock photo)

'Voters have to choose carefully and pay some attention to the outline of all parties' policies' (stock photo)

It is hard not to characterise the core of the election as anything other than a straight contest between Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin for the office of Taoiseach. But saying that is not to dismiss all the other parties' vital role in the campaign, which has 18 full days to run.

There are many disadvantages to our so-called 'new politics', not least the difficulty of producing coherent government, and this newspaper has not been slow in pointing these out over the past three-plus years. But new politics gives us one advantage come election time - it gives every political party and Independent politician a potential role.

There is no doubt that it has enhanced choice and true democracy of a kind. The reality is that, whether Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil emerges as the bigger party ultimately tasked with pulling together a coalition, the likelihood is that another party or parties will be called upon to join a government and take some seats at the cabinet table.

In sum, these people will have a real say in our day-to-day lives as they may occupy some pivotal ministries. In fact, the smaller parties may, to borrow a phrase coined by former Progressive Democrat leader and Tánaiste Michael McDowell, give a coalition government its distinct flavour, rather like a garnish or sauce in a particular dish.

The now defunct Progressive Democrats pushed the much bigger Fianna Fáil to adopt pro-business and lower tax policies. Labour in various coalitions managed to push social change issues like divorce, contraception, same-sex marriage, and other issues while the party also acted as a break on social security and services cuts, a reality for which it was not always thanked by voters.

In 2007, the Green Party entered government with Fianna Fáil and expected to begin a series of measures to tackle climate change. The economic collapse from 2008 onwards altered that one.

In the upcoming General Election on February 8, there are signs that the Green Party and perhaps Labour may once again be faced with the choice of whether to join a coalition with one or other of the big parties.

Entirely depending upon the Dáil numbers, each of those could have two or maybe three government ministers, including the post of Tánaiste.

We have already seen Independent TDs take a seat in Cabinet, and we have duly noted that the sky did not fall. We may see more of that after this upcoming vote - and we may see Independent TDs trade their external support for a coalition for some beneficial constituency projects.

So, while this will be a straight Varadkar versus Martin fight - many of the other politicians standing for election could well have a big influence on our national agenda over the coming years.

That means voters have to choose carefully and pay some attention to the outline of all parties' policies.

That fourth or fifth preference - given without a wild amount of thought - could in fact prove important for your own and your family's future prospects. So, it is worth giving all your choices some closer thought.

Irish Independent