Monday, 29 February 2016

Soldiers of Destiny have broader support than former Blue Shirts

Irish general elections rarely lead to one-party governments being formed. On the contrary, coalitions nearly always emerge once the seats are allocated. The 32nd Dail will be no different. The dominance of Fianna Fail has been eroded since the party's devastation at the 2011 general election. In 2016 three political factions will share most of the seats: Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.  The rest of the seats will be held by independents, Labour, the Green Party and the hard left People Before Profit/Anti Austerity Alliance.

As yet no one party has a clear majority. The most likely outcome will be some sort of arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. If this doesn't happen then we are in for what could be a long period of political instability.  But why should these two civil war parties join together now? The answer is that they are the only ones who can provide a stable government. It is hard to see both parties participating in a coalition government together, however some kind of deal could quite realistically be arrived at.

The most likely scenario is that Fine Gael (the largest party) will form a minority administration with Fianna Fail support, but without the latter party formally entering government. This would allow Micheal Martin and his colleagues to continue to rebuild their organisation without receiving the sort of flack that has so badly damaged both Fine Gael and Labour in this year's poll.

By staying out of government, this time, Fianna Fail may be able to block attempts by Sinn Fein to become the main party of opposition. So all round the best option would seem to be a Fine Gael minority government backed by Fianna Fail. The only other viable alternative is to hold another general election and nobody wants that right now.

Many say that Fianna Fail are a conservative party. This is only partly true. Like Fine Gael, they attract plenty of support among middle class voters. However the Soldiers of Destiny have a much broader appeal than the former Blue Shirts. The party of De Valera and Lemass have been in office more often than any other party in Irish politics. At the 2011 general election they lost a huge amount of goodwill with the public. This year they have clawed back a considerable number of seats and it is highly likely they will be back in government in the not too distant future. Until then they must continue to rebuild the trust they threw away under Brian Cowen's disastrous leadership.

The workings of the 32nd Dail will be fascinating to witness as efforts begin on forming a government. In the coming weeks we will see if Irish politicians can put aside their petty differences and work in the national interest, or whether they prefer to continue the tribalism that has held us back for so long.

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