If FF and FG became one: a perfect alliance or a mismatched monster?
Should Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael put their differences aside and form an alliance? Party members say no
Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath believes that the electorate will not be ready to forgive his party in 2016, and that government is not an option until 2020 at least. He agrees they are close to Fine Gael on some issues but says the distinctions are more marked than is the common perception. Fianna Fáil is a left-of-centre party now, he says, while Fine Gael is well to the right. For him, the dominant issue in the election will be economic management, and it will be critical for Fianna Fáil to carve out its own space on economic policy.
Being a minor partner in a coalition is risky, given how the electorate has punished smaller parties in the past. “It is exceptionally difficult for a smaller party to retain a distinctive identity in government. That holds true for the current coalition even though Labour won close to 40 seats,” says McGrath.
If Fianna Fáil were damaged by such an alliance, this could create an electoral opportunity for Sinn Féin. “Sinn Féin poses a significant risk in terms of FF’s self-interest, but we cannot allow ourselves to be motivated by that,” says McGrath.
The arrangement would be welcomed by other parties, however. “I have long argued that the political choice should be between left and right,” says Stagg. “I still believe that strongly as it would normalise politics.” Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty also argues for realignment. “The left have to come together too. It should be based on values and not something historical.”
The political blogger and Fine Gael member Dan Sullivan also points to some other unpredictable consequences of an FG-FF alliance. “I actually think the mistrust between both parties would be much higher. We perceive Fianna Fáil as wide boys who play fast and loose with the rules, while they see us as ‘big house’, superior and condescending.”
He also argues that you need stable opposition as well as stable government. “If support for both parties fell, it does not follow that Sinn Féin and Labour would pick up all the votes. You could see tiny new parties, far more independents, continuity parties, rumps of parties. It could lead to huge instability.”
Murphy, McGrath and Hayes separately identify stability as the biggest benefit of a political system dominated by parties of a similar hue. Murphy contends that a single opposition party has always offered a moderate, non-radical, alternative government.
Says Hayes: “Peter Barry [a former Fine Gael deputy leader] said to me that the long-term viability of Fine Gael is based on the long term viability of Fianna Fáil. What he meant was that both offer government that effects non-radical change. They have offered modest change and long-term stability. We are the third-longest continuous democracy in Europe.”
To return to the soccer metaphor: this is also a little similar to Celtic and Rangers. Bitter rivals as they are, Scottish football is at its strongest when both are strong.