Cliff Taylor: The numbers to watch as count drama plays out
Coming days will be a poker game with nobody willing to show their cards
There is no chemistry between Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, which means a full coalition between the parties would face huge hurdles. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.
As you read this , the tallies will be coming in and the first indications of whether the opinion polls got it right will be emerging. Depending on what time of the day it is, you may be hearing estimates of first count percentages. This will tell a lot. Whatever happens, after the votes are counted we are going to be into a very interesting period. Here are the key numbers to watch over the weekend.
There are only so many independents, or smaller groups who could be roped in. There would be a big difference, for example, between Fine Gael and Labour getting, say 65-66 seats – which would make government formation near-impossible – and getting 72-73 seats, which could mean it was “ on”. A “good” Independent in this context, as one former minister put it to me, is one prepared to “get bought and stay bought”. In other words, they agree to some booty for their locality – a road, a school, broadband, whatever – and in return agree to support the government. All in the interest of national stability, of course. And no, it wouldn’t be pretty. Something more policy-oriented would be needed to pull in other groupings, such as the Social Democrats.
3 to 4 weeks
Fianna Fáil would fear its fate in coalition, with Sinn Féin leading the opposition and building itself up for the next election. Senior party figures from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have quickly shot down any suggestion from TDs during the election campaign that such an arrangement might follow the vote. And Micheál Martin would have to get it past a party ardfheis, which would be difficult.
A step short of a grand coalition would be Fianna Fáil agreement that it would allow a minority Fine Gael administration to be formed. This would involve it agreeing to abstain on the election of a taoiseach and subsequent motions of confidence in the government – for as long as it supported the overall direction of policy. This so-called “confidence and supply” arrangement would stop Fianna Fáil from being pulled into coalition, though it would also miss out on the “Mercs and perks” of government. It will be a defining call for Micheál Martin, if it comes to it.