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Troy controversy shows Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael now glued together

There is a belief in both parties that they will need to stick together if they want to keep Sinn Féin outside the gates

It’s silly season, and for political correspondents this traditionally means a month of unanswered phone calls and scrolling through weeks-old parliamentary questions.

It may be a quiet time for some journalists but it can also be the most dangerous time for a politician, as any misstep or misdemeanour becomes amplified by the dearth of other political events.

It was this time last year when former minister Katherine Zappone announced she would be turning down a Government job as a special envoy. The plan to appoint her had been slipped on to the Cabinet agenda and mishandled to such an extent that it dominated the coverage in every news outlet for the summer of 2021.

It is unsurprising, then, that the Coalition was keen this year not to let any festering issues drag out through August, which gave Ministers that extra push to sort out the divisions on the emissions cuts needed in agriculture and beyond.

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Get the fight over with, find a compromise and stop the issue from becoming a summertime political football: this was the thinking of more than one figure in Government.

Try as they might though, there will always be one story that grows legs and this week it was around the property dealings of Fianna Fáil Minister of State Robert Troy.

The Longford-Westmeath TD failed to completely register his ownership stake in three houses — two of which were sold to local authorities — in the register of members’ interests. In the end, he submitted seven amendments to the register to correct the inaccuracies, along with a fulsome apology.

The disclosures prompted all kinds of questions: should politicians stay away from the property game? Should Ministers and TDs have to declare the sale of properties to local bodies? Do politicians take their obligation to disclose interests seriously enough? And what do Troy’s Government colleagues make of the issue?

Which leads us one of the most interesting aspects of the story. During a visit to Monaghan, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was asked by reporters whether he had confidence in Troy, who is the Minister of State in his department. The Fine Gael leader didn’t just give his Fianna Fáil colleague his confidence and backing. He went one step further and was effusive in his praise, calling Troy “top class”.

“I’ve seen the work that he’s done as a Minister of State in my department over the past two years and it really has been top-class work, so yes, I have total confidence in Minister Troy as a Minister.” Even Troy’s own party leader, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, wasn’t as ebullient when declaring himself satisfied with the clarifications.

The fact of the matter is, if Fine Gael were in Opposition they would probably have had no problem giving Troy a kicking. The same could be said for Fianna Fáil during the motions of no confidence in Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in 2020 and 2021. But times have changed.

There is a belief in both parties, and perhaps to a much lesser extent the Green Party, that they will need to stick together if they want to keep Sinn Féin outside the gates.

Tomorrow, thousands of people will gather at the monument in Béal na Bláth for the centenary commemoration of the death of Michael Collins.

For the first time, the ceremony will be marked by a historic joint address by the Fianna Fáil leader and the Fine Gael leader.

That says something about how politics has matured, and is another nail in the coffin of so-called Civil War politics, further cementing the two parties together in their centrist alliance. It’s no coincidence that this is happening at a time when mainstream parties in Europe are experimenting with their own grand coalitions to keep out insurgent contenders.

The strategy of sticking together in the face of a rising Sinn Féin — and they are rising — poses an interesting quandary for both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, especially in the context of the next general election. How will each party define themselves during election campaigns which were previously dominated by both sides attacking each other? It will be interesting to see how they make the pitch for voters to lend their support for their individual parties, when Sinn Féin will claim that a vote for Fine Gael is the same as a vote for Fianna Fáil, and vice versa. This, they will say, is more of the same, when people have clearly shown they are ready for a change.

The two leaders may tomorrow recall how their political parties emerged from the same place, notably the political movement founded by Arthur Griffith. The question now is whether they are destined to end up in the same place as well, whether through choice or necessity.