Miriam Lord: Century of Civil War politics ends with a wheedle

Smaller parties give short shrift to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s shameless wooing

The brand new Finagle party will be seeking to woo smaller parties into joining it in government. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be hoping his former coalition colleague, now Labour leader, Alan Kelly might be interested. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The brand new Finagle party will be seeking to woo smaller parties into joining it in government. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be hoping his former coalition colleague, now Labour leader, Alan Kelly might be interested. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The brand new Finagle party went out on the pull for the first time on Wednesday wearing an all-in-one sequined disco suit.

This ground-breaking development should have sparked epic scenes. It was totally historic.

But hardly anyone noticed.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael acting in concert after a century apart, who ever would have thought it?

The finagling pair of them fluttering come-hither eyelashes at the nearest available talent. Waving scented bouquets of blossoming humility while dangling outrageous promises and murmuring sweet nothings in impressionable little ears.

“Would you like to be buried with our people?”

Because that’s what invariably happens to smaller parties when their heads get turned by fast-talking political bruisers offering an exciting and rewarding future. They get buried.

But sure one (or more) of them may think it might be worth the ride all the same. That’s the way of the world.

In the same way that Fianna Fáil is Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is Fine Gael and never the twain shall meet. That’s been the way of the Irish political world for their 98 years of dominance – major allegiance to one side or the other, with every other party stuck in the rift.

All that changed on Tuesday evening when a century of tribal certainties was brushed aside with an outward ease, taking political observers by surprise but hardly registering with the barely bothered.

Most people have much more pressing business to worry about.

Intractable Civil War politics versus a global pandemic?

An old argument of strife and Dev versus the pressing reality of life and death?

No contest.

In a brief joint statement from their two party leaders who broadly share the same political outlook but have inherited opposing histories, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael declared they were willing to work together in government if they could attract another partner to join the enterprise and give them the numbers required for a stable administration.

Coalition Builder

Can you form a government?

It’s easy to dig heels out of ancient ruts when power is at stake and a pandemic is raging. Covid-19 brought them together.

Although for Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin, who knows this represents his last chance to become taoiseach, the stakes are higher than they are for outgoing Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar.

But they are trying to make a go of it.

Hence Wednesday’s shameless wooing of the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party. Civil War politics ended not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but with a wheedle.

Senior representatives of the two parties began their charm offensive over the airwaves at breakfast-time and continued for the rest of day.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary and Michael McGrath were first out of the traps. A match-up with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would be “absolutely historic” said Dara. He was being very upbeat.

The agreement was going to be sent to the smaller parties “in the hope of opening a conversation” around government formation.

It is a “high-level paper” marvelled Michael. “It is a foundation document which will be the basis of a discussion . . . it is designed really to form the basis on a programme for government.”

Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan, the Minister for Justice, was up in one of the mid-morning slots alongside his colleague Richard Bruton.

Charlie went on about “the equality of authority” between the parties and “the equality of ministers”. But he didn’t say which of the current Ministers would have to be kicked out to ensure this parity of esteem.

“All we have is a framework and a handshake,” he added.

There was also “the arc of challenge” to be contemplated, continued Charlie, talking about the commitment the new government would have to the needs of the commuter-belt generation.

Bruton is leading a “reference group” and they’re busy on “seven key tests” and 10 priorities, which are also pillars. They became “missions” by the afternoon when details of the document were realised.

It’s a slim volume – a kind of backwards manifesto. A hindsight look at what both parties would have promised had they known the election would have gone so pear shaped.

“There is no going back to the old way of doing things” they promised at the start of their plan designed to dazzle possible partners.

But they loved the old way. If it was that bad, why did they ever follow it?

The smaller parties immediately responded by playing hard to get.

“An “uncosted, purely aspirational document that will require detailed scrutiny” sniffed Labour’s Alan Kelly. The Greens and Social Democrats were similarly unimpressed. Why would they want to be buried with either party?

But the promises are very impressive. Maybe one of them will cave in.

“I believe it’s a no brainer, really. I very much welcome the proposed deal between the two historic foes,” cooed Flanagan.

Grand, replied the three smallies with studied indifference. Leave it with us and we’ll have a think. Get back to you later.

If they decide against, the other two can get back to the old hostilities and protest that they tried their best to form a government but got nowhere and must be given the credit for that.

And they must be given credit for taking the plunge and probably upsetting a large section of their core support.

But as it emerged on Wednesday from the medical experts in relation to the over-70s – cocooning is advised but not mandatory.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – The Finagle party for now – are learning that cocooning is not mandatory for them either.

The big reveal is all the more shocking for the fact that it isn’t in the least shocking.

Like when the Wizard of Oz was revealed to be a big phony – all that noise and fury for so many years, and then the screens fall away and everyone wonders what the big fuss was all about.

Not even the pigs bothered to fly and hell didn’t freeze.

A new history is unfolding.

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