There is an old radical dictum that, “If voting could change anything, they’d abolish it.” You used to see it scrawled on placards at demonstrations, penned by some obscure anarchists from the fringe. I have a feeling it was on display at the big anti-Iraq War march in Dublin back in 2003.
The one thing we can do by voting is to change the government. This used to be pretty straightforward, you simply voted for or against Fianna Fáil (depending on whether they were in or out of office, if you follow me). Since FF abandoned what Pádraig Flynn said was one of its “core values” and opted for mixed marriages of convenience, the result of voting for one party or another is less certain.
It is probably the case that virtually all the people who voted for the Greens in previous general elections, except possibly last year’s poll, never expected them to get into bed with the Soldiers of Destiny. But there they are, working quite happily with their senior partners.
Sure, there are issues of contention which either Ciarán Cuffe or Dan Boyle, neither of whom are in cabinet, will ventilate publicly. But by and large, the Greens are delighted to be in government; they feel they are achieving things and mirabile dictu party membership has reportedly increased by a third.
Labour have, as we know, been in and out of government for decades. They finally crossed the Rubicon in 1992 by forming a coalition with FF whom they had portrayed for a long time as something akin to the Devil Incarnate.
Sinn Féin are in government with their old arch-enemies, the DUP in the North. The party would clearly like to be in office down here as well, on the appropriate terms. The results of the 2007 election showed that an alternative to the FF-led coalition was possible. SF made it plain that it was ready to enter negotiations with other parties about coalition, including Fine Gael.
On June 10th last year, speaking on RTE Radio’s This Week, SF’s Caoimhghín O Caoláin said: “We are available and willing to speak with all different opinion, including Enda Kenny and Fine Gael; we have ruled out absolutely nothing.” And he continued: “If Enda Kenny is serious, for heaven’s sake, let’s put the question to him, why has he not contacted Sinn Féin, or is all this about Enda Kenny being an alternative a load of nonsense?”
People with long memories were reminded of 1948, when an extremely-disparate group of parties formed a coalition under John A. Costello and ended 16 uninterrupted years of Fianna Fáil rule. Clann na Poblachta were identical twins of today’s Sinn Féin and their leader, Seán MacBride, had been the IRA chief of staff.
If you want a government led by either FF or FG, it seems the only way to ensure the outcome of your choice is to vote for one of those two parties. Despite the Tallaght Strategy espoused in 1987 by Alan Dukes, it seems the prospect of an FF-FG coalition remains a most unlikely eventuality.
Next week we shall have the “think-ins” of the two main parties followed by the Greens. FF are in Galway on Monday and Tuesday; FG in Limerick on Wednesday and Thursday and the Greens in Tralee on Thursday and Friday. The FF event looks predictable, although you can never be sure. The announcement of an early Budget showed that Brian Cowen is capable of springing a surprise.
FG are being somewhat reticent. They may have something up their sleeve. There is talk of proposing a constitutional amendment to protect Ireland’s tax autonomy, especially its low tax rate for corporate investors, from the beady eyes of our European partners.
FG have a new political director, Michael McLoughlin, replacing Gerry Naughton. The new man is not well-known to the media. He has a simple, straightforward task: get the party back into government.
How to go about this task is, of course, another matter. Hollywood legend Sam Goldwyn said, “Predictions are very hard to make, especially about the future” but we may see a situation after the next election where FG has a similar choice to last year’s. The price of office may be cooperation with the “Shinners”. They dithered over a similar decision in the past regarding Democratic Left but then pinched their collective nose and took the plunge.
The one thing we probably won’t hear much about at the FG “think-in” is the party’s 75th birthday. They were founded back in 1933 and their first leader was the Blueshirt chief Eoin O’Duffy. Interestingly, O’Duffy was previously IRA Chief of Staff for a period. Like Seán MacBride. And like one or two Sinn Féin people, perhaps?
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times