Blog, March 1, 2011
By Jason Walsh
Labour’s governing council today said it hadn’t given a blank cheque to leader Eamon Gilmore and his team in their negotiations with Fine Gael. This is hardly surprising given Fine Gael has spent two days saying it may choose someone else to take to the debs, but the idea that there is any chance of a government composed of anything other than Fine Gael and Labour remains fanciful.
It’s easy to be cynical about the endless interviews and statements to the press – and in truth, it’s not entirely an inappropriate response. For the most part, both Fine Gael and Labour are engaged in horse-trading and despite saying they will not negotiate a government via the press, the various salvos fired and kites being flown are just that.
Another way to end civil war politics
Fine Gael does have two other options open to it. For a start: it could govern with the help of right-leaning independents. This has happened before, albeit with the left: in 1982 then-Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey formed a government with the support of independents Tony Gregory and Neil Blaney, and Sinn Féin-the Workers’ Party (now merged into Labour). It lasted all of nine months. And therein lies the rub: Fine Gael could today govern with the support of independents, but it would be like herding cats, and we all know, cats are notorious bastards.
The other option open to Fine Gael is to form a government with… Fianna Fáil. This isn’t going to happen. Were Enda to get into bed with Fianna Fáil it would be viewed as a craven and unprincipled move and would undo the nine years it took him to rebuild the party after its 2002 implosion.
Before the election Micheál Martin did indicate that he would support a Fine Gael government in order to push through the austerity measures he considers necessary to fix the country. But as far as Fine Gael is concerned, even being propped-up as a minority government by Fianna Fáil would mean Martin was giving Enda the kind of support given to a hanged man by the noose around his neck.
Given all of this, the only choice for Fine Gael is to offer to make Eamon Gilmore Minister for Tiddlywinks, give other Labour figures a few more significant cabinet posts, and hope the party faithful can stomach the cuts it wants to force on them. If it can’t, then it will lose a significant chunk of its own support.
Labour’s lost love
For Labour, things are even worse.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Labour does have one thing to be seriously worried about. While it didn’t perform as well in the election as had been hoped, it did have its best ever result and could be in a position to build from where it is to become a challenger for the position of leading the next government.
Five years of supporting Fine Gael austerity, however, will put an end to such ambitions.
With strong Sinn Féin and socialist contingents in the Dáil a Labour party pushing an austerity programme could well find itself outflanked to the left and, if the economy doesn’t improve sharpish, facing electoral oblivion in a few years down the line.
On the other hand, if Labour decided to stay out of government it would stand accused of irresponsibility and haemorrhage moderate support.
For both Fine Gael and Labour it’s not so much a shotgun wedding as Hobson’s choice.
Of course, there’s always the Belgian option…