Miriam Lord: Enda and Micheál fail better in the formation game

Gerry Adams may have to give the leaders advice on decommissioning the hatchets

 Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil at the Dáil before the vote for Taoiseach. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil at the Dáil before the vote for Taoiseach. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Gerry Adams may be of some service to them after all.

No better man than the Sinn Féin president to give Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin advice on decommissioning the hatchets and putting them beyond use.

He could pass on the phone number of Gen John de Chastelain if an independent mediator is needed.

In any event, you wouldn’t let anyone from Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil near a hatchet at the moment.

They were going out of their way yesterday trying to bury them. Normally, this would be a good thing.

But, behind their semi-conciliatory words inside the chamber was an unsettling feeling that what they really want to do is bury them in each other’s back.

We’re nearly 50 days now without a government. These things take time, everyone says. We will get agreement by increment.

So how far have we travelled since the people spoke in tongues and delivered a mathematical nightmare to the parties trying to get the 32nd Dáil off the ground?

Not very, by the look of it yesterday.

Those Independent TDs willing to participate in the next government have been trotted in and out of various offices to meet the leaders and their negotiating teams.

They’ve been treated to nice biscuits and soft chairs and honeyed words, but little else, they say.

Outside the circus

As Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael continued to sell their suspicious circling of each other as a virtue, the Independents who decided at the outset that the formation game wasn’t worth a candle spoke up in the Dáil yesterday with a fairly undeniable message: “Weren’t we right?”

Meanwhile, while agreement looked as distant as ever, the parties involved and the Independents who decided to give consensus a shot sought solace in the fact that at least they “didn’t sit on their hands”.

The only wonder was that one of them didn’t turn to Samuel Beckett for consolation in the midst of their political shambles: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

But maybe they’re saving that quote for next week. Or maybe Michael D Higgins has already ring-fenced that one for himself.

We had visions of him trembling with anticipation in the Áras yesterday as the third vote to elect a taoiseach played out and Sabina went about finding a suitable formation hat, waiting by the telephone for a call from the acting Taoiseach saying he was coming up to have a word.

Tweed suit

There should be a “three strikes or you’re out” rule when it comes to forming a government.

But Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be back in the Dáil chamber next Wednesday, with or without a requisite number of willing Independents in tow, to try again.

Nobody expected any result from the proceedings arising from the latest round of “talks.” So, in one way, nobody was disappointed when there wasn’t one.

The ranks of the willing were very unhappy with the way they feel they’ve been treated by the two parties.

They met at lunchtime and decided to abstain in the vote, publishing a signed document on their deliberations afterwards.

But in a major development, Kenny raced ahead in the phoney battle between himself and Martin when Independent deputy Katherine Zappone decided to stop the messing and committed herself to vote for the acting Taoiseach.

It made no difference, except for the optics of the situation. After the Fianna Fáil leader – or at least a delegated senior figure in his party – put the frighteners on the Independents on Wednesday night and told them to vote for one leader or the other or else he would withdraw from negotiations for good.

But Martin isn’t the boss of them, so they told him to shove his threat where the sun don’t shine and sat on their hands.

Who would blame them? Why would they buy a pig in a poke and opt for any side without knowing what policies they intend to introduce when in government?

Shane Ross complained that they felt like “the meat in the sandwich.”

“When we have made moves to bring these two sides together, we’ve either been ignored or misunderstood” he wailed.

Then he extended both arms, palms facing up and pleaded “you should treat each other with parity of esteem.”

Winston Churchtown’s Francis of Assisi moment was very moving. The only thing missing was a few sparrows landing on his outstretched fingers.

There were attempts at “reaching out” between the main parties when their leaders spoke after the votes.

Enda repeated that he wanted to be “flexible” and he invited Micheál around “to meet me to authorise the continuation of discussions and negotiations on the formation of a government. I would be happy to authorise such progress with Deputy Martin, if he so wishes.”

He said he remained “fully committed.” Which is all very fine, but if a government isn’t formed soon we’ll all have to be committed.

Martin, for his part, also wanted to reach out. He sounded a bit hurt by the way the negotiations have been conducted thus far, but said it was time to “move on”.

He didn’t move far, though, feeling the need to unburden himself of “significant concerns” about Fine Gael trying “to spin and control everything.” He even gave examples.

Mind you, the other side could do the same. From this side of the laptop, we’ve observed that the leaks have been coming from both directions.

Gobsmacked

Frances Fitzgerald

It’s hard to see, for all their talk, how the parties can work together. But politics is the art of the possible, so you never know.

But, judging by the body language and the nuanced words, the pair of them will have major difficulties sitting down together.

As for “reaching out” perhaps they might be best advised to follow the example of those who abstained and sit on their hands too, for fear they might reach out too far and throttle each other.

Still, at least the sitting gave Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald another chance to reference her two favourite characters in literature as she lambasted the parties for not getting together.

“It’s like being caught in a bunfight between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”

She urged them to do the business, even if she dreaded “the idea of the two of you kissing and making up”.

Too much information there.

On the abstentionist side, deputies bridled at the suggestions that they weren’t playing their part in helping to form a government.

Why would they, when they watch the shenanigans going on and they don’t agree with the politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the first place?

Strong contribution

Galway WestCatherine Connolly

“I am proudly here today to say I will take my role in government as soon as we have the numbers and in opposition in the meantime.

“If two parties or alliances on the left had the same numbers, if we had 50 deputies and 43 deputies, respectively, we would be demonised in the media for not forming a government. Shame on them.”

The impasse, she noted, is about “two egos in competition, finding mechanisms to work with each other, but with no policy document on housing . . . ” or anything else.

And Gerry Adams called for “urgent and meaningful debates on some issues which are pressing down on people like the issue of health, the Luas dispute, Nama and Moore Street.” Moore Street? Aah, come on, Gerry.

As for the participating parties, all complained about the hurlers on the ditch giving advice.

In one rare area of agreement, Micheál declared “the sheer number of people who have appointed themselves to be spokespeople on behalf of the national interest is now ridiculous.”

And what of the people in “the real world, outside this bubble” as Adams put it.

We’re a docile lot. No protests outside the gates with people roaring “Where’s our government?” Does anyone care, anymore?

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