The chances of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Fein coming together to form a national government are, let’s face it, almost zero, for the simple reason that politicians probably feel that it would probably disadvantage all three parties.
But that may well be wrong, and, more importantly, leaving the politics out of it, there’s a strong argument to be made that a national government – mooted by Peadar Toibin, amongst others – is the only rational course of action.
Yesterday, the Fianna Fáil leader went on the national airwaves to try to bounce Fine Gael into a coalition government with his lot. “At some point”, said Martin, “Realpolitik has to break through” because the public “would never forgive us for another election”.
That, of course, is complete fantasy. The people who would not forgive him for another election are not the voters, but his own TDs. But further complicating Martin’s difficulties, according to TheJournal.ie and other sources, was that there seems to be very little appetite for “realpolitik” to break out in Fianna Fáil:
FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin faced a backlash by his own TDs for opening the door to a coalition with Fine Gael during this afternoon’s parliamentary party meeting….
…A number of TDs, such as Robert Troy, were critical of the direction and strategy of the party during the election and the rhetoric used in relation to Sinn Féin, which many said isolating the party and had to stop.
It is understood that Sean Fleming said the constant hammering of Sinn Féin had harmed the party, with many TDs stating that it had to stop.
Éamon Ó Cuív, John McGuinness, John Brassil, and John Lahart also spoke, stating that the over focus on Sinn Féin meant they were not speaking about their own mandate.
One TD said that ruling out Sinn Féin was done too soon, stating that Martin had showed all his cards during today’s radio interview. They said the party leader was almost begging for Fine Gael to go into government with them.
While all this nonsense is ongoing, seven new cases of Coronavirus have been confirmed at the time of writing. The economic outlook suddenly looks a little shaky. The housing crisis, so urgent just three weeks ago, has all but been forgotten. The health service is facing into a potential crisis of unprecedented magnitude with nobody in charge of it, unless you count Simon Harris, and what sane person would do that?
The three parties, meanwhile, face different challenges, all of which would be mitigated to some extent by a national government. Start with Sinn Fein: That party’s enemies say that it is too big a risk to be allowed to run the country. But a spell in a national government would take that argument away, or at the very least, blunt it. It also gives Sinn Fein a great story: Because of the Coronavirus crisis, we put politics to one side and worked together in the national interest.
Fine Gael, meanwhile, feels that it should be in opposition. But the public will not be hugely outraged at a show of national interest and selflessness by the three biggest parties joining in a national government to tackle what could be the greatest public health crisis in the history of the state. It would be fairly easy to sell as pragmatic patriotism.
And for Fianna Fáil? That party is in the biggest bind at the moment, tasked with the almost impossible job of assembling a Government without Sinn Fein, and with the only other option being to put Fine Gael back into office. But in a national government, with Sinn Fein also on board, the risk of that move is dramatically lessened.
So, the politics of it might not be bad for anybody, actually.
And what about the country at large? Well, the arguments for some kind of quick national arrangement are very strong.
There is a high likelihood, with Coronavirus advancing rapidly, that emergency budgetary measures and legislation may be required. The new Government could immediately form a cabinet subcommittee of the three party leaders to work jointly to tackle it and agree necessary measures.
The other major pressing issue is the Brexit trade negotiations, scheduled to end at the end of the year, providing that there is no extension (and the UK seems insistent that there will not be one). Truthfully, the three parties don’t differ much on that issue, and there should be no impediment to them working together.
This would not need to be a permanent, or even a long term, arrangement. A national Government with an agreed mandate of one year, and an election in May 2021, would go a long way to stabilising the country at a moment of potential crisis. Given that big decisions need to be made, and nobody presently has a mandate to make them, the logical and correct thing to do is to allow for a political ceasefire that benefits everybody and brings some stability to the country.
Will they do it? Not on your life.
But there’s a very strong case to be made that it’s the only responsible option at the moment.