Why I believe Fianna Fáil deserves credit for its role in forming a Government
Article by Brian Hayes MEP which was published in the Irish Independent on Wednesday 18th May 2016
After the longest gestation period in Irish political history, we finally have a government. While many criticised what happened last Friday, one thing is absolutely clear, Irish politics remains the art of the possible.
Who would have predicted it? A government elected with 59 votes out of 158. A government facilitated by the leading opposition party, a party that actually doubled its seat tally in the recent election. And a government where independent members of the Dail make up a significant presence and hold key ministries. All in all, quite an achievement given the real prospect of another election that could have resulted in a plague on all houses from the electorates´ viewpoint.
Enda Kenny deserves his place in history. He is now the longest serving and most successful Fine Gael leader since WT Cosgrave. History will also be kind to Eamon Gilmore and Joan Burton, and especially Brendan Howlin – the unsung hero of the last administration.
The process of forming this government was a complex operation. It took time and considerable patience. Real political skill was shown by all of the negotiators to try to form a stable government after the most indecisive electoral result ever. Nobody knows how long it will last, but if it genuinely reforms the way that decisions are taken and reforms the Dail – there is no reason why this government cannot be successful. Actually some of the best governments in the history of the state have been minority governments.
Now the government is in office it needs to hit the ground running. While Fianna Fails approach to water charges reminds me of the young St Augustine – in favour of chastity but not now. Fianna Fail will continue to exercise a large measure of influence over the government, the Dail and the political agenda.
I am going to make just two predictions at the start of this government.
One, it will last much longer than people think. Taking a government out in this political climate is not as easy as some in the populist part of the opposition might think. The agreement reached with Fianna Fáil should last for three budgets – otherwise they will look foolish and could pay a heavy price if a snap election is called for purely political reasons.
And my second prediction is that the new political environment will be as challenging and difficult for the opposition as it will be for the government. Because the government cannot govern on their own, it requires openness to new ideas and an ability to do things differently. In Regina Doherty the Taoiseach has selected one of the most impressive TDs for the crucial role of Chief Whip. If the opposition just plays normal opposition politics and refuses to meet the government at least half way, then it’s the opposition who may well be exposed. Also the competition within the opposition should be fascinating to watch.
I for one believe that Fianna Fáil deserve great credit for what they have agreed in facilitating the formation of this government. In many respects they had most to lose from a second election. And be clear – reelecting Enda Kenny and Fine Gael last week is not without risks for Fianna Fáil. They will forever be attacked for effectively putting FG back into government, the old enemy, and more importantly keeping us there until a time of their choosing.
I know many in Fine Gael would have been happy for a full partnership government between us and Fianna Fail. It certainly would have been stable for a five year term. But at what cost for the future of democratic politics in Ireland?
That government would have included a rotating Taoiseach and effectively a 50/50 share of government between both parties. Had Fianna Fáil gone for the grand coalition it would have been the end of centre ground politics in Ireland. It would have handed Sinn Fein the mantle, leaders of the opposition and presumptive government in waiting. Why would any party who genuinely cares for the future of Irish democracy hand that advantage to Sinn Fein
Fianna Fail were not prepared to do that. They saw, like the rest of us what happened to the SDLP in Northern Ireland when people didn’t stand up to Sinn Fein’s brand of aggressive bully boy politics. Sinn Fein will say anything and do anything to win populist votes. Sinn Fein as leaders of the opposition would have been a lethal cocktail facing into another election. Fianna Fail have stood their ground against Sinn Fein and in doing that have served Irish democracy well. In staying in opposition they have also helped to preserve the advances the country has made in coming out of this crisis. We are well positioned to come back strongly as a country but the government must be prepared to share and also prepared to give credit to the role that FF especially are playing.
Now some in my party are deeply suspicious of FF. But we shouldn’t underestimate the serious risks they have taken to help this government be formed.
One other lesson that recent Irish politics teaches us is that parties that seem to be annihilated by the electorate can and do come back. Both the Green Party and Fianna Fáil have shown that in the recent election. The same can happen in my view for the Irish Labour Party. Sinn Fein won’t have it all their own way now. From the genuine hard left – who call SF politics sectarian – to the centre left, SF will find it increasingly difficult to simply say NO in a Dail which will demand genuine solutions. But in Fianna Fáil staying out of government and in refusing to move aside for SF, a hugh step has been taken. It’s a courageous act on the part of Fianna Fáil.