Thoughts turn to coalition options


Analysis: It’s day after the night before, and already thoughts are turning to the possible make-up of the next Government.

Before we look forward, let us remind ourselves of the gobsmacking scale of change in this election, the most “transformative” – to use a word seized upon by Enda Kenny last night – in decades.

For Fine Gael and Labour, their best ever results. Fine Gael has so far secured 62 seats, and is poised to take 75 seats or more.

Labour has bested its performance during the “Spring tide” in 1992, when it obtained 33 seats. This time it has already reached that total and may end up with 35 seats, many of them in areas not normally considered natural Labour territory.

The difference this time, though, is that whereas Labour in 1992 coalesced with a dispirited and directionless Fianna Fáil, its prospective partners this time, Fine Gael, are firing on all cylinders, both electorally and ideologically.

Fianna Fáil has received the drubbing it must have expected and is left with a shrunken rump of about 20 TDs, all of them male. And the Green Party has been extinguished as a parliamentary party, and must build itself anew for the future.

As for the next Government, so much now depends on the outcome of the remaining seats.

The closer Fine Gael creeps to the magical number of 83 seats, what they need for an overall majority, the more attractive the prospect of a coalition with “like-minded” independents appears as an alternative to a Fine Gael-Labour government.

The first option would give the administration a clearer ideological bent, never mind freeing up more Cabinet seats for the party’s TDs.

Fine Gael won’t get the numbers for single-party government, of course, but the mathematics says an arrangement with a handful (or two) of independents could work.

But are there sufficient like-minded independents out there? We can rule out the United Left Alliances and their four successful candidates and, probably, other left-leaning independents such as Catherine Murphy, Finian McGrath, Mick Wallace, etc.

It’s not so much that a deal would be impossible but the chances of it sticking for long would be considered slim.

There aren’t too many obvious right-wing independents but even here there would be sticking-points. Shane Ross wants a referendum on the EU-IMF deal, which the three largest parties don’t believe can be untied.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has begun the inevitable dance in shy form, insisting it is Fine Gael’s call on whom it chooses to court as a potential partner. Rest assured, though, that the mating game will start shortly.