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.