Fear of bitter defeat will see political minds focus on forming coalition

Union of FF, FG and Greens would draw criticism and a sigh of relief in same breath

There is a compelling reason why it is very likely a coalition government will be formed to avoid another general election. It is the all-consuming fear among the 160 TDs that they might have to go before the public again so soon after being returned to the Dáil.

That fear transcends policy and ideology, despite the current posturing and pretence and the bluff of some at party meetings that they do not fear another election. It extends to all parties and Independents.

All elections are expensive, exhausting and stressful, resulting in a glorious victory or bitter disappointment. It is the fear of the latter that is now privately concentrating the minds of TDs in the corridors and rooms in Leinster House.

Even Sinn Féin, which has most to gain from another election, according to the polls, would hardly welcome one so soon. Its best political option is to spend some time in opposition and consolidate its gains and provide the necessary learning curve for its new TDs.

Inexperienced TDs should have a word with veteran Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan, who knows all about the trauma of two elections in one year. Back in 1981, when he was first elected to the Dáil, Fianna Fáil, which had secured a 20-seat majority in 1977 under Jack Lynch, lost power under his successor Charlie Haughey to a Fine Gael-Labour coalition led by Dr Garret FitzGerald.

That coalition lost power in February 1982. Haughey returned to power but his government lasted just a few months and there was another election in November. This put huge pressure on TDs, not least in funding campaigns at a time when there was no email and no social media. One TD told me at the time that his bank manager was less than sympathetic when he asked for an overdraft to pay for posters.

Durkan remained in the Oireachtas during that turbulent period and is now the great survivor of Irish politics. He should have some stories to tell those who have yet to experience the trauma of three elections, two in one year, in such a short time.

Starry-eyed colleagues

They might talk, too, to Fianna Fáil veteran Willie O’Dea, who, according to reports, had some frank advice at last week’s parliamentary party meeting for his more starry-eyed colleagues opposed to coalition on the vulnerability of their seats if there is another election.

In 1989, after an indecisive election, there was political stalemate similar to what we are experiencing now. As always, the formation of a government was a numbers game. They pointed to a coalition between Fianna Fáil and the then Progressive Democrats. The problem was the PD leader, Des O’Malley, had been expelled from Fianna Fáil for “conduct unbecoming”, when he refused to vote against an FG-Labour bill making condoms more freely available.

O’Malley had once said Haughey was unfit for public office. Some in Fianna Fáil were bitterly opposed to breaking the “core value” of not entering coalition, particularly with O’Malley. Haughey, the master tactician, advised TDs at a parliamentary party meeting to prepare for another election.

A TD present at the meeting later recalled they went pale with fright. Minds were concentrated and a deal was done with the PDs. When a deal is finally done between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Green Party, and, perhaps, some Independents, there will be the inevitable scathing criticism from the opposition benches. But privately, there will be a collective sigh of relief from all 160 TDs that a government has been formed and their worst nightmare, another election, has passed.

That’s politics.

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