Government Formation Talks in Ireland: Political Posturing amid Left-Wing Upsurge
The most noteworthy development came on Thursday last week (5/3/20) as Michael Martin TD confirmed talks were underway with Fine Gael. The Fianna Fail leader spoke of the need to intensify discussions and negotiate a programme for government. He also stated he would be willing to enter into a coalition with Fine Gael and didn’t rule out the prospect of a rotating Taoiseach. If such a development occurred, we believe it would have an extremely pernicious effect on the credibility of both parties moving forward. Leo Varadkar maintains his party is “preparing for opposition”. This is quintessential realpolitik from the caretaker Taoiseach, who has yet to fully reveal his hand. Leo Varadkar has also warned that any coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would act as a mandate for Sinn Fein to sweep the boards at the next election.
The Social Democrats have stated that they would not consider being part of any government that contains Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The party returned 6 TD’s from 20 candidates and will enjoy their time in opposition as the most popular left leaning voice. Also this week, Roisin Shortall, joint leader, stated she envisaged a situation in which government formation talks were likely to continue until Easter and beyond.
The Green Party also had their best-ever result, with 12 seats. Their desire to “balance Irelands social, economic and environmental development for the common good”, has come under scrutiny, in particular their costings around a 2.5 billion euro retrofitting scheme which makes up part of Ireland’s Climate Action Plan.
A minority Sinn Fein led government is possible if left leaning parties can collectively agree on a range of policies to enact in the new term. The parties would be voting on the programme rather than the government formation or coalitions, which would effectively lead to a minority government, in which Mary Lou McDonald would be the Taoiseach. In order for this arrangement to be implemented through the Dáil, all left-leaning parties and independents would have to vote for it, and one of the larger parties, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael would have to abstain.
Grand Coalition or back to the people
The current mood music lends itself to a grand coalition of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the Green party and a bloc of Independents. Such a bloc would pave the way to a Dail arithmetic that would have some stability. Rise TD Paul Murphy said the prospect of a grand coalition was a “stitch-up” that would “halt the demand for radical change”. (A march was held on Saturday in Dublin (7/3/20) against such a prospect). Perhaps with a sense of inevitability, Murphy conceded that such an arrangement “would have democratic legitimacy”. Should it emerge that such an arrangement cannot be made, the country faces a second election.
A majority is formed by any combination of parties that has 80 or more seats