Fine Gael’s slogan for their Irish General Election 2016 campaign was “Keep the recovery going”. It saw the election campaign as an opportunity to convince the electorate that the party’s hard work over the previous five years was responsible for the improving economy. Unfortunately for the governing party, it’s ‘hard work’ translated as five years of crippling austerity to many Irish voters, and Fine Gael paid the penalty on 26 February when the people went to the polling stations.
Despite remaining the largest party in the country after winning 50 seats, 26 less than the amount it managed in the 2011 general election, Fine Gael lost the election. There was to be little in the form of good news for its junior coalition partner Labour, which suffered absolute decimation at the polls and which is left with just seven seats, 30 less than it got in 2011. In stark contrast, Fianna Fáil capitalised on the widespread anger felt towards the coalition parties by more than doubling its number of seats to 44. It was also a positive result for Sinn Féin and Independents, who won 23 and 18 seats respectively.
The Irish people have had their say, but almost two months have passed since the vote, and a government is still yet to be formed in the 32nd Dáil. Fine Gael will by now have adjusted to the fact that it will possibly be required to form a minority government with its arch-nemesis Fianna Fáil. The rivalry between the two parties dates back almost one hundred years to the time of the Irish Civil War, but it should be time for differences to be put to the side for the sake of the Irish people.
As the days and weeks continue to pile up in anticipation of the next Dáil, there has been a plethora of statements and announcements from various cabinet ministers and TDs claiming that there has been progress made on the brokering of a deal. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s respective leaders Enda Kenny and Michael Martin have sat down and attempted to negotiate a compromise between the parties, but there is currently no significant signs of any headway being made. The reason for this impasse appears to boil down to the infamous water charges, which have been one of the most universally loathed policies of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s regime.
The main issue is that Irish taxpayers feel they are being overcharged for a service that has been in place for years, with the responsibility for the maintenance of water being taken from local authorities and placed in the hands of a semi-state corporation. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have continuously been vocal in their opposition to Irish Water, and echo the feelings of many who feel the charge is simply austerity taken too far.
Fianna Fáil stated in its election manifesto that if the party was to be elected to government, the scrapping or at the very least suspension of water charges would be an absolute priority. It is now apparent that the party’s pre-election promise to the electorate is what is causing the bitter deadlock between the two parties, with neither of the two willing to budge on the matter.
Sinn Féin frontbencher and Dáil spokesperson for Finance Pearse Doherty is adamant that the potential coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would be a negative outcome for the Irish people, but concedes that this circumstance is the most likely to occur.
“It is evident that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are engaged in a pointless charade of political posturing. It is a fact that no political party has been given a mandate by the people to govern alone, and the only numbers that add up are for both parties to work together.
“While I do not believe that this outcome would be a good one for Irish society, it is apparent that there is a reluctance on both sides to make this happen.”
Mr Doherty suspects that this “political posturing” is inexcusable considering the histories of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who share vastly similar political beliefs.
“The political ideologies espoused by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are essentially the same, as both are fundamentally right wing conservative parties, with little variation in the policies which each respectively endorse.
“I believe that the delays and impasse which we are witnessing at present is a feeble attempt by both groups to pacify grass root supporters who are staunchly opposed to the notion of the two Civil War foes entering into Government together, or even an arrangement whereby one would facilitate a minority administration led by the other.”
The TD for the Donegal constituency maintains that his party are striving to deliver a fairer society for those who voted for one, and that potentially becoming the main government opposition would not be seen as a negative scenario for Sinn Féin.
“We have made it clear that we support progressive policies which promote fairness and equality. We firmly believe that those who voted for Sinn Féin did not do so simply to see a continuation of the failed economic and social strategies of successive Governments.
“Therefore, Sinn Féin has a duty to represent the views of the people who believe in our vision for a fairer, more inclusive society. If the only way to ensure that we do not compromise on these fundamental Republican principals is to remain in opposition, then so be it.
“However, Sinn Féin is open to constructive dialogue with anyone or any grouping whom express a desire to engage with us.”
Mr Doherty’s admission that his party have left the door open for negotiations is an intriguing one, but it is very unlikely that Sinn Féin will form any part of the new government in the 32nd Dáil, particularly given their political beliefs.
As well as opposing politicians, many voters have also expressed their disbelief at the farcical attempts made by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to form a government. Liam Brady is a student who studies at University College Dublin, and who recently was elected to the UCD Students’ Union as Arts and Human Sciences Convenor. His role in the Students’ Union requires him to keep a close eye on events occurring at the nearby Leinster House, and it is evident that the political situation unfolding has led to him sharing the frustrations of many.
“I believe that no matter what excuses both sides claim for not reaching an agreement, and their inefficiency to form a government, simply boils down to their Civil War sides and the lengthy hostilities that followed on from this ever since.
“Neither party wants to be the junior partner of a coalition, especially after the devastation the Labour Party suffered in the General Election. As such both sides are being overly cautious and are failing the democratic process. In my opinion the Irish electorate
voted for a Fine Gael led coalition with Fianna Fáil, and the votes from TDs in the negotiations favour Enda Kenny over Michael Martin.”
His sentiments echo those of Pearse Doherty TD, who also speculated that the impasse between the two parties dates back to Civil War times. Both the Member of Parliament and the voter also expressed similar views regarding Sinn Féin’s role in the Oireachtas, with Mr Brady agreeing that the Republican party are now poised to provide genuine opposition to a right wing government.
“A clear right-left divide between government and opposition I feel is the obvious government formation. I think Sinn Fein have had time to grow and develop themselves and are now absolutely ready to be the main opposition in the Dáil.
“Two right wing parties colliding in government and opposition will only see arguments between choosing one form of austerity over another. At least with a clear right-left divide it fosters the opportunity for proper alternatives and arguments.”
Mr Brady is hopeful that the formation of a government will be announced sooner rather than later, and he believes that two of the first issues tackled by the next Dáil should be the housing crisis and the issue of mental health.
“The housing crisis is an absolute must. Since being elected to the UCD Students’ Union I have had a number of students approach me regarding the hassles of Dublin rent prices. It is becoming apparent that it is increasingly tough for young people to migrate to the capital for third level education due to extortionate rent prices.
“I also believe that the homeless crisis falls under this problem too and should be another key concern for the next government.
“There is also the issue of the mental health budget being cut by €12 million. The lack of interest in this department showed itself in all of the major party’s election manifestos, but reducing its budget is an utterly disgraceful move and should absolutely be rectified by the next Dáil.”
Talks will continue in Dublin between the negotiating teams of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the hope of a new government being formed within the coming weeks. Almost two months have now elapsed since the General Election. If an agreement is not reached soon, there are fears that there may be no other alternative than for another election to be called – at a cost of around €40 million of taxpayers’ money.