Ed Moloney assesses the impact of this week's general election in Ireland. Ed Moloney blogs @ The Broken Elbow.
Although the final votes are a long way from being counted in the general election in the South of Ireland, it is already clear that the previous Fine Gael-Labour coalition is doomed.
The poll has been nothing short of a disaster for Fine Gael (FG) and for Labour, especially the latter, but a triumph for Fianna Fail (FF) leader Micheal Martin whose party has recovered a lot of the ground lost in the 2011 poll, when FF went from 71 seats to 20. Fianna Fail look to be heading for 40 seats this time.
Sinn Fein look set to win between 22 and 25 seats, up from 14 in 2011. Not a spectacular result but a very promising one for the future.
There seem to be only two routes to a new government. Either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail cobble together some sort of deal with the plethora of independents set to be returned to the Dail, an inherently unstable arrangement, or a coalition government of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is formed, the so-called ‘grand coalition’.
The other permutation involving Sinn Fein appears to be a non-starter for both FF and FG.
A Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition appears on its face to be as inherently unstable as an arrangement involving the independents. But it would be a delightful prospect for Sinn Fein.
It would be unstable because the competition between the two remnants of the Irish civil war would be too intense, the temptation to screw the other too great for it to last. It would likely be a government that would stagger from crisis to crisis, caused by personality clashes, policy differences or just plain ambition, personal and party.
But the stage would be set to allow Sinn Fein to present themselves as the real opposition. Not only would the party’s Stalinist-like discipline compare favourably to the chaos and backbiting that would infect the coalition government, but the Shinners would play it all to their advantage in other ways.
They would use the life of that arrangement to infiltrate and subvert both the Labour party and the various independents in the Dail, so when the time came, Sinn Fein would emerge larger and healthier and ready to take power, either by itself or in coalition with whichever party was willing. It would then gobble up that party in turn.
Study the history of the party under its current leadership and you will find that these are the skills that have been honed to perfection by its leadership cadre over the years and implemented with military-style discipline, ensuring not only the triumph of that leadership over internal opposition but its survival for over three decades.
You don’t stay at the top of the greasy pole known as the IRA without having very sharp claws.