It seems clear that some members of Fianna Fáil may have their “tails up” because of the very significant

improvement in seat numbers and in their share of the General Election vote. This positive feeling which

they have about themselves contrasts with the sense that Fianna Fáil was a toxic political brand from

2009 onwards.

 

And we should not under-estimate their members’ feeling that they have now been “forgiven” by the

electorate. The last Government obviously wanted to keep Fianna Fáil “in the dock” politically speaking,

not least with their exaggerated hopes that the Banking Inquiry would damage the party in the

immediate run up to the General Election. That hope simply never translated into votes.

 

But today’s poll (Sunday Business Post 13-3-2016) should also cause senior Fianna Fáil figures to think

again. A clear majority of voters want a stable inter-party Government to take office. Support for some

form of minority government commands only a fifth of popular support – less even than those

masochist voters that just want a re-run of the election.

 

More significant for FF is the fact that the majority of their own supporters favour the inter-party

majority Government choice. Although it is true that the level of support for that option is significantly

higher among Fine Gael supporters, the fact remains that only a small minority of FF supporters want a

re-run of the election. The idea of a “Tallaght Strategy” support for a minority government does not

command anything like majority support among FF voters.

 

On top of that is the underlying fact that a snap re-run of the election would probably produce a similar

result. Even if support for independents would fall in that scenario (which is by no means clear), a re-run

election would most likely not produce a radically different set of post-election choices for FF They could

conceivably come back with less seats and a weaker bargaining position that they have at present.

Are we witnessing a genuine FF strategy of non-participation in government with Fine Gael? Or are we

witnessing an elaborate, drawn-out softening up process in which FF are “playing hard to get” in order

to obtain the maximum leverage over FG in a political game that is located somewhere between stud

poker and “chicken”?

If there is eventually to be an inter-party FF-FG government based on the principle of equality, there will

have to be a great deal of leadership shown by the leaders of FF and FG.

Which brings me to the question of the FG leadership.

No party likes the idea of ditching its leader at the behest of outsiders, least of all at the behest of its

rival. But the question that does arise is as to whether Enda Kenny can credibly aspire to remaining

Taoiseach in a new administration that would in any sense appear to be “new”. Fairly or unfairly, he had

a “car crash” election; fairly or unfairly, he is “damaged goods”?

If the leap of faith required to get the republican Clann na Poblachta into an inter-party government in

1948, required that FG, although the larger party, should agree to someone other than its leader acting

as Taoiseach, as it did, the same might well be thought to apply even more to the formation of an FG-FF

or FF-FG government in 2016.

It isn’t a question of a “head on a plate”; it is a question of freshness and favourable winds for any new

government. Many were taken aback that Shane Ross would negotiate face-to- face with Enda Kenny

and almost immediately use a newspaper column to launch his “political corpse” exocet. It would be

hard to describe that behaviour by Ross as statesman-like.

But I think it is equally hard to argue that the national interest – or indeed the Fine Gael interest – really

requires that Enda Kenny should remain in office as Taoiseach in any new government.

If the identity of the Taoiseach – or of rotating Taoisigh is an issue – the people are likely to become

quickly critical and dismissive of any unreasonable game-playing on the matter.

 

In my judgment, the electorate would punish very severely any party which they see as causing another

general election for narrow party advantage. To that extent, the “election re-run” scenario is simply a

non-runner in the poker-playing that will go on over the next few weeks.

 

That leaves us – and each of the larger parties – with an effective choice between a “support for a

minority government from outside” or a “participation in a partnership FG-FF government” scenario.

I won’t repeat what I wrote here last week about the “madness” of the first option in present

circumstances. Today’s poll figures confirm my view that the voters are well ahead of the two major

parties in their analysis of the issue.

 

While it is true that both FG and FF sought support in the General Election on expressed and repeated

assurances that they would not coalesce after the election, that was the only position either could take

in the circumstances.

 

FG could not have “wobbled” on coalition with FF without being seen to stab Labour in the front.

FF could not have recovered their vote share and doubled their seats by posing as a party that “might”

re-elect Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

 

But let’s be clear – FF sought and obtained absolutely no mandate for supporting Enda Kenny as

Taoiseach from the outside. Nor did they seek or obtain any mandate for a second election in weeks.

Both FG and FF impliedly sought votes on the basis of being realistic “parties of government”; neither of

them sough votes on the basis of staying in opposition.

 

So public opinion now demands of each of them that they should work with the seats the people have

given them.

 

They can have their “tails up” or their “tails down” for the next few weeks. Neither mode will help the

one of them that receives a political boot in the posterior in the event of their causing a second election.

This all suggests that the real inter-party negotiations will soon begin between small teams of trust-

worthy interlocutors operating on an exploratory, confidential, “nothing is agreed until everything is

agreed” basis.

 

The teams will have to include more than just the present party leaders for obvious reasons. The agenda

will have to be comprehensive, forward-looking rather than backward looking, and reformist and

ambitious for Ireland.

 

If the two parties are to survive the experience of sharing power, they must be clearly seen to act on the

principle of equality. After all, in terms of first preference votes, they are separated by no more than a

whisker.

 

The airwaves and newsprint are no place to negotiate – as Shane Ross’s gaffe shows. Posturing on public

“red-line” issues is as pointless as references to “core values” were back in 1989.

 

Ireland needs and deserves good, stable government. Those who can deliver it owe it to us all to do so.

Those who hesitate and look backwards for their vision should remember the current graphic road

safety TV campaign against motorists looking back.

 

Anyone who ignores today’s poll findings should be wary of the very real likelihood of a car crash

election.

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