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Political revolution or government as usual?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 13th, 2020 at 02:39:14 PM EST

My highest probability expectation both before and after the Irish general election is that it is unlikely it will be possible to form a stable government from the configuration of parties the electorate have thrown up. It took 70 days to form a government in 2016 when Fine Gael had 50 seats, and that government was only possible because Fianna Fail, with 44 seats, agreed a "confidence and supply" arrangement with Fine Gael under which it would abstain on votes of confidence in order to allow a government to be formed.

It is generally agreed that the confidence and supply arrangement did Fianna Fail no favours with the electorate as it was unable to pose as a radical alternative to Fine Gael, having facilitated the broad thrust of Government policy over the past 4 years. Although Fine Gael were the biggest losers (-15 seats), Fianna Fail also lost 6 seats with Sinn Féin (+14) and the Greens (+10) the biggest beneficiaries.

The only other time a major opposition party has facilitated a government in office was in 1987, when then Fine Gael leader, Alan Dukes announced his "Tallaght Strategy" to facilitate a Fianna Fail government basically implementing Fine Gael policies. That, too, didn't end well for Fine Gael.

In general, there has been a pattern in Irish politics whereby the junior partners in any coalition government reap all the frustrations of the electorate while gaining little or no credit for any progress made, most famously in 2011 when the Labour party collapsed from 37 seats to 7 after having been the junior partner in a coalition with Fine Gael. It is hardly surprising therefore, that no party will be rushing to take on a junior role in or supporting a government led by another party.

The situation now is further complicated by the fact that the three major parties, Fianna Fail (38 seats), Sinn Fein (37) and Fine Gael (35) are so closely grouped together with no clear leader to take on the role of Taoiseach. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have said both before and after the election that they would not work with Sinn Fein (because of policy differences and that party's association with the IRA), but also insisted they would not support each other given their experience of "confidence and supply" in the past.

Sinn Féin Leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has made the initial move in trying to form a government by approaching the Greens, People before Profit, and the Labour party amid scepticism that she could ever cobble together a majority of 81 seats in the 160 seat chamber. Although there are a total of 87 non-Fianna Fail and Fine Gael deputies elected to the Dail, many of the independents are closely aligned with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael and would not feel comfortable working with Sinn Féin - not to mention the historic enmity and rivalry between the left wing parties themselves, many of whom have said in the past they would not work with Sinn Féin because of its association with violence.

Leo Varadker has stated he hopes to become Leader of the Opposition and Fine Gael generally seem reconciled to losing office, given that the electorate issued a damning verdict on their performance to date. No doubt they are hoping utter mayhem and confusion will result, which could have the electorate flocking back to Fine Gael - "the party which founded the Irish State" if no government can be formed and another election is held in a few months time. They will come under huge pressure to support or a minority Fianna Fail government, however, as a quid pro quo for Fianna Fail facilitating the last Fine Gael led Government, and the electorate may take a dim view of them failing to help the formation of a government.

However the situation now is not directly analogous to the past 4 years. Fianna Fail only had to abstain to facilitate Fine Gael (plus some independents) having a working majority in the Dail, whereas a minority Fianna Fail administration would require all the Fine Gael votes plus some minor party or independent support to have a working majority. The obvious solution is a Fianna Fail lead coalition with Fine Gael plus a minor party or some independents, but that would be a nightmare scenario for Fine Gael for all the reasons cited above.

Not only would they have to play second fiddle to their historic rivals (and 1922/3 civil war opponents), but they would likely be decimated in any subsequent election. The left's wet dream in Ireland has always been to force Fianna Fail and Fine Gael into coalition together, expose the lack of policy difference between them, and make hay from the opposition benches. Ultimately there will only be room for one centre right party in Ireland, and Fine Gael, as the junior partner, would face oblivion, just as the Progressive Democrats did in 2011, when they, too, tried to occupy the centre right space.

I am surprised, therefore, that Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, has not already offered this poisoned chalice to Fine Gael. He could sweeten the deal by offering Varadker the job of Taoiseach on a timeshare basis - two years each - and splitting cabinet posts equally. If nothing else, he could cast Varadker as the bad guy if he refuses to cooperate. At some point the electorate will lose patience with any party seen as obstructing the formation of a government. Besides, he has led Fianna Fail into three general elections and lost all three, and this is surely his last chance to become Taoiseach. The lack of leadership talent behind him in Fianna Fail is startling, however, And Fianna Fail have nowhere else to go.

So I suspect we are in for a game of political musical chairs for quite some time, with each party pretending to be positive about government formation, and eager for the others to take the fall. The music will stop, however, when the electorate loses patience or is asked to vote again, and it will be vital for each party not be seen as the cause of the impasse. But for now we are in for some months of Kabuki theatre.

There is also one more complicating factor. Had Sinn Fein run more candidates, they would probably ended up as clearly the largest party on 45 seats or so. The electorate have given them the largest mandate to lead the formation of a government, and may not take too kindly to their efforts being frustrated by the establishment old guard. They could well win an even bigger mandate in any election held any time soon, and the smaller parties, who did very well from Sinn Féin transfers in the absence of additional Sinn Féin candidates, will be very reluctant to go to the polls again any time soon.

So it is still possible that a Sinn Féin led left wing government will eventually be formed, facilitated perhaps by some dissident Fianna Fail support, but unable to carry out large parts of its policy agenda due to opposition by a fiscally conservative majority in the Dail. The name of that game will be to allow Sinn Féin to achieve office but not power, and hope that Sinn Féin will take the blame for failing to deliver on many of their more ambitious election promises.

But once again it is a dangerous game for all concerned bar Sinn Féin. The electorate might take a dim view of them not being allowed to enact their promised measures on housing and healthcare, in particular: the issues of most concern to the electorate. So the overall situation is remarkably fluid, replete with many possible scenarios, but also with very real risks for those with most to lose: The Irish political establishment is teetering on the brink of a historic failure, and a political revolution is now a distinct possibility.

Conservatives will view this prospect with alarm - drawing parallels with Hitler gaining power in Germany as head of a minority party. More sanguine observers, including leading Unionist commentator, Newton Emerson, have pointed out that Sinn Féin, once in office in N. Ireland, are not a radical party. However in northern Ireland their potential base is the entire nationalist population, while in the Republic their base is still only the 25% most disillusioned with the establishment. Sinn Féin, North and South may be quite different animals.

But they also have some of the most able politicians on the island, promoting genuinely progressive policies, and demonstrating a pragmatism, resilience and determination in overcoming severe obstacles. Whether in office or not, they are sure to have a profound influence on Irish politics in the next few years at least.

by Oui on Thu Feb 13th, 2020 at 07:33:55 PM EST
He is probably trying to put pressure on the smaller parties to agree a coalition with him as they would be v. vulnerable in a new election, especially when Sinn Fein run more candidates. But he should be careful saying such things right now. He could end up shouldering much of the blame if there is a second election. Right now I suspect the electorate would double down and give Sinn Fein an even bigger mandate and tell the old guard to get out of the way.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Feb 13th, 2020 at 09:59:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently some in the UK have been interpreting Varadker's defeat as some kind of retribution for his perceived hard line on Brexit in the Withdrawal agreement negotiations. If they think Varadker was hard line, they should try dealing with Sinn Fein! They play a long game. If it takes ten years to negotiate a FTA, so be it as far as they are concerned. In fact ratification of any FTA could become subject to agreement to a re-unification referendum...

And for Brexiteers thinking that Irexit is sure to follow Brexit, it is worth noting that Brexit simply didn't feature in the election. Once a hard border in Ireland was avoided, nobody cared if they Brits choose to shoot themselves in both feet, The feeling is obviously mutual, because Boris has just sacked the only half way sane and able Secretary of State Northern Ireland has had in decades - indeed since Mo Mowlem in 1997.

John Waters, prominent Spectator journalist and the chief proponent of Irexit got 925 votes, less than 1.5%, in Dun Laoghaire, the most pro-British constituency in the state - as I predicted in an unpublished letter to the Editor of that august periodical - when they published an article of his saying that an anti-EU party could have won the 2016 general election.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Feb 13th, 2020 at 10:15:00 PM EST
I see now from my regrettably unpublished Letter to the Editor of the Spectator that I had actually been over generous in my predicted results for Irexit candidates. Hermann Kelly, close ally of John Waters and former communications Director for Nigel Farage's Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group in the EU Parliament actually achieved 0.7% of the vote in the Dublin Constituency - rather worse than the spoiled vote total of 4.1%.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 15th, 2020 at 01:37:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do people spoil their ballots as a protest very much?  Or is that a normal percentage?
by FoolsErrand on Sat Feb 15th, 2020 at 06:10:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I mentioned the figure because I was surprised how high it was. But it is easy to spoil a ballot with 20 candidates. All you have to do is skip a number - 1,2,3,5 and all preferences thereafter are void. Bad hand writing creating ambiguity also can void a ballot. Perhaps a small % spoil their vote deliberately, but why bother to show up in that case? It's not as if there isn't quite a wide choice. In the recent general election the spoiled vote total was less that 1%.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 15th, 2020 at 07:44:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree, it seems like a high number. I thought there might have been some reason for it. Maybe not.
by FoolsErrand on Sat Feb 15th, 2020 at 09:14:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
News is Fianna Fail is refusing to form a government with Sinn Fein.  

Which makes the question: when is the next election and who is going to get the blame?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Feb 14th, 2020 at 01:24:41 AM EST
by IdiotSavant on Fri Feb 14th, 2020 at 01:51:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, we'll see how that holds next week. Stop taking politicians, especially Irish ones, especially Fianna Fail, at their word.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 14th, 2020 at 11:02:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For all the talk of revolution and seismic events, there has, to date, been remarkably little fall-out in terms of the party Leaderships. Only Brendan Howlin has announced his intention to step down as leader of the Labour party, but he had to be press-ganged into take the job in the first place, and at 63, this was always going to be his last election.

There have been some rumblings about Varadker's continued leadership of Fine Gael, but these have come from the old guard who never supported him anyway. Michael Martin's position in Fianna Fail remains unchallenged, despite this being his third election without a victory.

The other parties all did relatively well, so naturally there is no pressure on their leaderships. All this could change when or if a government is eventually formed, but it is hard to see any government being formed given the refusal of the big three parties to work with each other. It would then be up to electorate to dictate the terms of the cull.

Leo Varadker will remain as caretaker PM while attempts are made to form a government, unable to make big decisions but still appearing at European summits etc. to represent the nation and dealing with issues such as Brexit where he is perceived to have performed well. The longer that goes on, the longer the status quo will be seen to prevail - to the frustration of a large part of the electorate.

He will be hoping that the underlying growth of the economy will continue to provide more jobs and houses for those who need them, and that the current plateauing of house prices and rents continues. Fine Gael always favoured "market solutions" to social problems anyway.

But the people have spoken and overwhelmingly voted for change: They are not going to take kindly to that vote being frustrated. Something or someone is going to have to give somewhere, or the next election is going to be a very angry affair.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 15th, 2020 at 12:20:08 PM EST
Further to the continued injured refrain from Brexiteers that the UK has been Ireland's best friend through the centuries: Ex-diplomats `always knew' Britain intercepted Irish communications.
Irish diplomats assumed the British government listened to all their communications with Dublin during the 1980s, former officials say.

Speaking after the revelation that the Irish government unwittingly used an encryption machine from a CIA-owned company, former diplomats stationed in Northern Ireland and elsewhere told The Irish Times it was no secret foreign agencies had easy access to Irish phone and text communications.

The equipment, which was manufactured by the Swiss company Crypto AG, gave the US intelligence agency, and consequently their British equivalent, access to encrypted messages during the sensitive period leading up to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The equipment was viewed as top of the range by Irish officials. "The view at the time was the Swiss made the best equipment," said one former official who worked in the London embassy for a period.

However, all former officials who spoke to The Irish Times said it was assumed at all times their communications were compromised.

"I think it would be fair to say that I and all our colleagues dealing with Anglo-Irish relations would have assumed that if there was [an electronic device] involved there was surveillance," said Seán Ó hUigínn, a former diplomat who led the Anglo-Irish division in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"So while the CIA ownership of Crypto AG may be a new detail, it is only a detail which does not affect the big picture."

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Feb 15th, 2020 at 01:50:37 PM EST
Bejamin Fox sez, There's never a good time to have a political crisis
The Joint Committee on North-South ["]arrangements["] needs to be formed and make their recommendations, which then need to be implemented. With the devolved government in Northern Ireland back in office for only a month after three years of statis, that was going to be difficult anyway.
At first glance, I'm skeptical that such a discrete body, were it to form, could purchase international trade "influence" from either IE or UK legislatures. I surmise, the only function of "North-South" governance est'd. thus far is consultative research stipulated by the GFA and subsequent Art. 2, Art. 3 in the Protocol. I presume greater interest in maintenance of the CTA eclipses partisan vicissitudes or BREXIT "red tape", while noting that perfect alignment of civil liberties on the islands is proscribed by divergent judicial recourse--UK Supreme Court or CJEU. Here are inconveniences amenable to localized cures.

Perhaps Fox expects IHREC Joint Committee's (NI and IE delegates) ex parte judgment on human rights compliance might dictate a EU-UK tariff resolution? This seems to me as unlikely as armed IHREC divisions taking up borderless patrols during or after expiry of the WA "transition period". Art.5 of the Protocol refers UK-EU Joint Committee and Specialised Committees (pl.) authority to review implementation of EU trade regs, removing arbitration from North-South controversy to its global scope--union:union--WA Art. 164-166. The committees' term effectively is one year, and will meet once, 1 July 2020, for consideration of WA modification and extension, if any. Such tribulations are more likely to  confirm than inform terms and conditions of the final trade agreement--including permanent maintenance of the Joint Committee dispute settlement (Title III). Ireland's North-South "arrangements" ultimately will follow, not lead, executive decisions.

I've not found committees' member lists or schedules; that does not mean none exist or circulate through UK-EU gov channels. Until 1 July, one may speculate about committee composition drawn from the unions' respective pools of parliamentary and TBTF cadres as well as executive representatives. For the EU, appointments from Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom; for the UK, cabinet "shuffles" and subterfuges in the state department assure lingering confusion about any joint ventures.

Joint Committee of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, "Policy statement on the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union," Mar 2018, 18 pp

The Common Travel Area (CTA) has been referred to as a mechanism for facilitating cross-border working after withdrawal. Research commissioned by the Joint Committee suggests, however, that in terms of service provision, this could infringe 'Most Favoured Nation' rules under the World Trade Organisation 'General Agreement on Trade in Services' since the CTA is not recognised by the WTO as a Preferential Trade Agreement whereas an EU-UK comprehensive trade deal would be.
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, North-South Joint Committee meets at Stormont, May 2019
parliament.uk, Chapter 2: The Withdrawal Agreement
Neither the Withdrawal Agreement nor the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill makes provision for parliamentary oversight of the Joint Committee. In our March 2019 report Beyond Brexit: how to win friends and influence people, we expressed concern both over "the lack of transparency in the work of the ... Joint Committee", and over the lack of any provision for the UK Parliament to oversee or influence its work. We urged that "a new mechanism should be adopted" to enable either House to require the Government either to raise concerns in the Joint Committee about specific proposals that could have a detrimental impact upon the UK, or to place an issue on the Joint Committee's agenda. To facilitate effective scrutiny, we also called for meeting schedules, agendas, decisions and recommendations of the Joint Committee to be made available to Parliament in timely fashion.
Brexit: Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland
Brexit deal approved by the European Parliament
Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement
gov.ie, Brexit and You: Northern Ireland
by Cat on Sun Feb 16th, 2020 at 05:34:39 AM EST
I'm not sure what the author of your linked Euractiv article is trying to say. Both sides are committed to a common travel area and have agreed that N. Ireland is effectively in the Single Market and Customs Union. There is therefore very little for the North South committee to discuss.

What will be very controversial is the "border down the Irish Sea" that will be required to preserve the integrity of the single market and uphold   WTO rules and any provisions of an FTE should one be agreed. Given Boris' frequent pronouncements that no controls will be required and EU insistence they are unavoidable, the stage is set for ongoing EU/UK tensions.

But none of that is part of the remit of the North South committee or of any great interest to Irish nationalists provided it doesn't impact too much on East/West trade between Britain and Ireland. Unionists, on the other hand, are hugely worried that the "border down the Irish sea" will gradually consolidate into a a real customs, and ultimately a political border.

Sinn Fein's success in the Irish general election doesn't alter that picture unduly as all three main parties are on the same page regarding Brexit and its impact on Ireland. We may well be into a "Belgium" scenario of no effective government for a while, but that may have little impact on EU/UK negotiations regarding the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and agreement to a FTA.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 16th, 2020 at 12:09:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, Fox's statement is a rhetorical question that I attempt to answer truthfully.

How many other readers have?

by Cat on Mon Feb 17th, 2020 at 02:38:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With numbers this low, there is no good option: Up to 74% will be unhappy with whatever option is chosen...
Poll on second election
Voters want the parties to form a stable government with fewer than two in 10 people wanting another general election, according to the Business Post's latest Red C poll. Some 26 per cent favour a grand coalition involving Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and smaller parties. Another 26 per cent favour a Sinn Féin-led left-wing government, while 19 per cent of voters say they would prefer a coalition involving Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and smaller parties. Just 15 per cent saying they would prefer another election.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 16th, 2020 at 05:04:00 PM EST
by Oui on Fri Feb 21st, 2020 at 08:03:27 PM EST

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