Likelihood Of Future Fianna Fáil And Sinn Féin Post-Election Deal Grows

Despite vociferous denials and protests to the contrary, by both politicians and journalists, since the general election of 2011 the possibility of a future Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin coalition government has moved from the speculative to the seemingly inevitable. Arguably the decision by Theresa May and her electorally weakened Conservative Party administration in London to pursue a parliamentary alliance with the previously anathema Democratic Unionist Party has made the post-election likelihood of a similar arrangement in Dublin less of a deterrent to Irish voters (especially given the negative reaction to the spectacle of the Tories purchasing support from a party which remains abhorrent to a broad swathe of general opinion in Ireland). It has provided FF with some political cover down the road to seek a far more mainstream partner with SF once all the votes have been counted and all other possible outcomes or solutions have been exhausted.

At the very least, a government with an all-Ireland dimension through Sinn Féin might be viewed as a safer bet over the next few years as the country deals with the fallout from the UK’s Brexit-born crash from the European Union. In times of crisis the electorate has traditionally turned to Fianna Fáil and a slightly greener form of politics to protect its interests, and with the party regaining part of its old, pre-recession ground, an FF-SF coalition would make some sort of populist sense. However this partnership would still face one major, and perhaps insurmountable, obstacle. Who would be in charge of Sinn Féin at the time? Veteran leader Gerry Adams or his heir-presumptive, Mary Lou McDonald? If the former, a cabinet seat or ministerial portfolio would be difficult to envisage, and the press reaction would be disastrous to FF. If the latter, then the position of Tánaiste would hardly raise an eyebrow outside the whining of a few right-wing newspaper columnists.

From the Irish Times:

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has rejected the prospect of the party supporting a minority government from the sidelines after the next general election and confirmed that it wants to be a full member of a coalition administration.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms McDonald was also highly critical of the current confidence-and-supply arrangement, which she described as designed to entirely suit Fianna Fáil.

It comes after the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, while ruling out a coalition with Sinn Féin, left open the prospect of a confidence-and-supply deal with Ms McDonald’s party after the next election.

Of course, the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, has staked his political reputation (such as it is) on not entering into formal government with Sinn Féin, while the latter party might face opposition from the likes of Eoin Ó Broin, who has argued that SF must be the leading partner in any coalition. Whatever happens in the near future, and people are continuing to speculate about an autumn general election, the prospect of a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil grand coalition is as far off as ever. Which delays the necessary right-left rearrangement of Irish politics forever and a day.

It might be suggested, rather than replacing the Labour Party as the third wheel of Irish politics, SF should continue with its long term game plan of forcing FG and FF into ever closer alliance until the two parties merge as one. Or at least appear to do so in the eyes of a significant chunk of the electorate, like the old Convergència i Unió or CiU pact in Catalonia. Unfortunately, power and the allure of power tends to attract the ambitious not the strategic, which may prove to be the future downfall of Sinn Féin Nua.

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7 comments

  1. SF appears to be dropping the requirement that they are the majority party in any coalition. Given the experience of Labour, the Greens and the UK’s LibDems they either have a plan or their hand is being forced by circumstances.

    An FF/SF govt today alienates all those under40 socially liberal Unionists that are perfect future FG voters. I will laugh my arse off if Varadkar is the one to re-unite Ireland because he wants to beat FF 🙂

  2. Speculation about SF strategy from within establishment media tends not to be particularly well informed by any particular (or actual) knowledge of SF strategy.
    This oddly coalesces with the PBP/Socialist Party canvass line that SF are about to prop up a FF government (which obviously didn’t happen), which suggests the whole story is intended to mischievous more than accurate.
    Oddly – it would suit SF if the prospect of a coalition manages to limit the abuse the party gets in any and every election campaign from the overtly pro-FF/FG at any price media. The more seats SF take, the more FF and FG have to embrace the stark reality of a government coalition (rather than a coalition that controls both government and opposition). Ironically, the fact that PBP/Socialist Party refuse to even endorse any form of left-leaning government or coalition means that it suits FF/FG to drive voters to them (as a way of taking seats away from a potential government not involving FF or FG) as a way to try and limit the reach of SF.
    Bottom line is that a coalition involving SF has to be passed by a special ardfheis. If it involves FF or FG, it wouldn’t pass, even if James Connolly was to come back from the dead and take over the party.

    1. There’d surely be some push back against it but do you think there’s no chance at all? There’s a fairly strong self-perceived strand of people inside the party who see themselves as ‘pragmatic’.

    2. I’m not so sure though. Yes, there may be impediments to such a coalition, and many in SF may disdain it, but some are clearly contemplating the possibility of such a deal. The rumours are coming from more than just media chattering.

      My own view is that it would be a mistake, and would reduce SF to the role of the new wagging tail for the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil dogs (as formerly held by Labour for nearly the last century). Better to hang on, however painful, and orchestrate the circumstances where the “grand coalition” of the two becomes inevitable.

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