A grand coalition?

 

There was nothing new in a suggestion by former Fianna Fail minister Mary O’Rourke that her party and Fine Gael should put aside past differences and participate in a future coalition government. What was different was her attempt to present such a development as the desired legacy of her late nephew and minister for finance Brian Lenihan.

Mrs O’Rourke is a canny political operator, a trait that appears to run in the genes of the Lenihan family. Her speech to the William Carleton summer school and subsequent radio interviews were designed to open up public discussion on a possible realignment of political forces while undermining the ambitions of Sinn Fein. After decades of disparate coalition governments, the notion of a Fianna Fail/Fine Gael arrangement may pose less of a visceral challenge to voters than the prospect of Sinn Fein entering government.

That’s the nub of the issue. Should the present Government complete its term of office or break up under fiscal pressure, Sinn Fein is likely to be in a powerful position to offer support to either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael in a bid for power. Rather than see that happen, the former Fianna Fail education minister has proposed a grand alliance of traditional opponents.

Such an outcome, she acknowledged, would depend on the electorate. In attributing the “thought” of such a coalition to her much-loved nephew, however, she exaggerated. Certainly he delivered a powerful speech at Beal na Blath, commemorating Michael Collins and acknowledging his contribution to the State. But he did not suggest a coalition of the civil war parties. He spoke of accepting differences of approach in good faith and of a need to work together to build a viable economy, even as keen competition remained. At the time, support for Fianna Fail had collapsed and a deal with Fine Gael was unthinkable. By raising the prospect of coalition now, as an effective political memorial, Mrs O’Rourke is being, as always, pragmatic.

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