Will we ever again see an overall majority in Dáil Eireann?
Today’s closing of nominations to contest the General Election reveal that Fianna Fáil are running 9 fewer candidates than would be needed to lead on its own. Labour would be 16 short with a full complement, the Greens 41 short, Sinn Féin 43 and Fine Gael would need to return over 80 per cent of its candidates to squeeze in with a majority. Given they are probably 14/1 at least to manage that we are almost certain to have a coalition.
This will cause great unease among the electorate who would stop to think. What are the possible combinations and how would voting intentions be reflected in them.
Despite protests from both sides, the most natural fit in the eyes of an alien looking at the manifestos would be Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. “Never” goes up the cry from both sides but Brian Lenihan was perhaps a little too coquettish when the subject arose in the Finance spokespersons debate on Monday. Could you not picture Enda standing outside government buildings on the completion of negotiations for the programme for government saying it is ‘in the national interest to have a strong, stable government’? How would Fine Gael voters feel about this or does that really matter as it is the whole population that sends representatives to the Dáil?
How would that scenario compare to a dominant Fine Gael relying on the pledged allegiance of independents? Some of them would be of the roundabout variety and some would have more noble aspirations but might be entranced by the whiff of power a kingmaker’s role would bestow upon them.
A coalition of the left?
Is there still a possibility of a coalition of the left? Labour has moved more to the centre in recent weeks, torn between not wishing to lose core support to Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance and not wishing to scare the newly fractious middle class voters who want change. There is a long way to go in the campaign but there would need to be a substantial shift to the alternative programme the left is proposing and greater unity of spirit between the parties. If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael did join together it would allow a realignment of politics with the Left as a more cohesive opposition but the moment would have passed.
And so Fine Gael / Labour looks by far the most likely but the makeup of that programme would largely depend on how many TD’s return under the Labour banner and how willing a resurgent Fine Gael would be to give many concessions. I cannot see Leo Varadkar leading the negotiating team.
If that did not work out, what then of Fianna Fáil and Labour? Many on both sides four years ago would have looked on this as possible and if it allowed Labour to lead would they be right to dismiss it? After the Spring Tide the same pairing took power and while the collective consciousness says it was disastrous for Labour, the facts are less conclusive. The Department of Equality and Law Reform came into being, as did the Department of Arts and Culture. The recession of the 1980’s gave way to greater prosperity, condoms became legalised, the law against homosexuality was repealed and the divorce referendum came onto the agenda. Ireland became a more inclusive and liberal state. Labour suffered at the polls after then switching to a rainbow coalition but it made its mark.
The numbers could certainly work and while it is not ideal from a left wing perspective it would lead to the nation’s first Labour Taoiseach.
Make sure you ask the candidate you are voting for who they would lie down with after the dust has settled.