We Are Where We Are – But Where Are We?
Deaglán de Bréadún
There is a delicious moment of uncertainty before most general elections. The campaign is nearly over, the candidates and party workers are virtually exhausted and the die is almost cast.
So where are we? Listening to Sean Donnelly and Brian Dowling being interviewed by Sean O’Rourke at lunchtime certainly reinforced the growing conviction that a Fine Gael majority government just might be on the cards.
With all due respect to Labour, it has made a number of mistakes in the campaign. Hyping the “Gilmore for Taoiseach” angle from an early stage now looks very unwise.
Indeed it looked unwise at the time. I recall being phoned by the Breakfast Show on Newstalk just after 7am when covering the Labour “think-in” at Roscommon last September.
Eamon Gilmore had been pushing this line that Labour could/would be the biggest party after the general election.
It was very early in the morning and I was in no mood for ambiguities. Not a hope in hell, I told the interviewer. I wondered afterwards if I was a teeny bit grouchy – they haven’t asked me on the show since
Yet Labour persisted in talking up its prospects: it’s a three-way contest, etc.
Now that all looks a little sad and wan, given the state of the opinion polls. We may be heading for the first-ever single-party Fine Gael government since the main opposition party was founded, perhaps amid a flurry of raised hands and an array of blue shirts, back in the early 1930s.
We are being told in some quarters that, even if Fine Gael has the numbers to form a coalition with like-minded, or at least biddable, Independents, it would still prefer to go in with Labour for the sake of stability regardless of the fact that this would mean sacrificing six of the maximum 15 Cabinet ministries.
Certainly, they have been in coalition with Labour before. The two parties know each other well and worked together in a calm and constructive atmosphere under John Bruton after the Reynolds-Spring administration collapsed because of ..? Because of ..? Because of ..? Nobody quite remembers what it was because of, these days.
At the same time, it would be only human for FG types to feel that an arrangement with Independents and maybe one or two Greens would be a lot cheaper and might be just as stable, if not more so.
The concerns of Independents are predominantly local: a school here, a bypass there, a new factory on the outskirts of the constituency’s principal town. Michael Lowry (a former Fine Gael minister, by the way) and Jackie Healy-Rae may have jumped up and down and issued dire warnings on the One O’Clock News but, although they huffed and puffed, they never brought the house down.
It’s a numbers game as the old hands keep reminding you over a cup of tea in the Leinster House canteen.
The delicious part is that we won’t know until the weekend what the numbers will be and one guess is as good as another until the people have their say.
I wrote/transmitted a Tweet the other day that I had met a former Government minister who said, in reference to the possibility of Fine Gael single-party rule, that if it didn’t work out we could be looking at another Egypt, but on the Liffey, Shannon, Corrib and Lee, instead of the Nile.
This reinforced something I have felt since this current turmoil began. We are undergoing a crisis of democratic legitimacy. The system as operated by Fianna Fail and the Greens singularly failed. Now FG, either on its own or with Labour, is being given a chance to show it can do better.
It is necessary for the sake of the country that whoever gets elected restores some kind of normality and financial sanity. Europe will have to cut us some slack, if it can. We are where we are – now we need to get to a better place.