The unthinkable alliance looms – a Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein Government

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Eamon Delaney    Irish Independent

So Conor McGregor defied the critics and lasted ten rounds with the skilled Floyd Mayweather. The Crumlin man made the transition to ‘respectable’ boxing and came out of it enriched (in all senses) and wasn’t broken or humiliated.

What would happen if Sinn Fein made a similar transition to ‘respectable’ politics and got into the ring for a few rounds of feisty government with Fianna Fail? Could it be any worse than the punch-drunk ‘new politics’ that we currently have, with two Civil War era parties propping each other up and incapable of passing meaningful legislation or landing a killer blow?

That is the increasing talk among insiders and politics-watchers as we lumber on through various unchanging crisis issues and, more crucially, unchanging opinion poll figures.

Yes, there will be thunderous denials and outraged offence at this diabolical suggestion, but a possible future government between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein is a real possibility after the next election, which now could be as early as next Spring.

In this newspaper on Monday, Patrick O’Donovan, the outspoken young Fine Gael TD and Junior Minister, warned about this alternative government and did not mince his words about past atrocities by the usually unrepentant Republican movement, and how such brutal actions still haunt voters throughout rural and urban Ireland.

However, despite these misgivings, time has moved on, Sinn Fein has committed to the path of peace and democracy and the prospect of finally entering Government in the South would indeed be irresistible if the same election result as last time was produced. And even more likely if SF increased its seats, as is also likely.

Quite simply, FF would not have the stomach for another confidence and supply arrangement with FG, which is not working and even more precarious now Leo is Taoiseach. The leftwards journey of FF would make it more amenable to coalition or some partnership arrangement with SF and the centrist journey of Sinn Fein would also facilitate things.

With Stormont in suspension, and some DUP MPs calling for the resumption of direct rule from London, Sinn Fein may as well put all their energies into the Southern political scene and getting a role in Government which they are apparently gagging for. It feels particularly left out when they see the profile and influence that the Independents have gained in Government.

However, a FF-SF partnership is fraught with great risk for both parties, and especially FF. Its middle class supporters will take fright and the business community, which once loyally supported FF (although not as much any more admittedly) would be equally appalled.

A coalition with SF would seriously endanger any hope of FF recovering ground among professionals or, indeed, any prospect of relief for the squeezed middle or tax cuts for middle income earners. But then there doesn’t seem much prospect of the latter under FF anyway. Last weekend, Timmy Dooley TD said that pay equality for teachers should come before any tax cuts.

A FF-SF coalition is also, apparently, against the profound wishes of party leader, Michael Martin. But, in the end, it is all about the Dail arithmetic and come the next election, Martin will be under intense pressure from his TDs, hungry for power, and he may have nowhere else to turn. He would also become Taoiseach himself, which would be tempting.

Such a coalition would also bring heavy attacks on FF from Fine Gael and from anti-Sinn Fein sources, and rightly so, and it could make for as bitter an electoral atmosphere as the abortion referendum.

And is Michael Martin really against a SF coalition? Could it be that he has prepared the ground a long way out. After all, one of the greatest hurdles to a partnership with Sinn Fein, the abolition of water charges, has been neatly dealt with. And there have been all those nationalist pageantries around 1916 and Eamon de Valera, and other Republicans, with party members even dressing up in felt hats and bandoliers, just like the Shinners do !

Of course, FF will continue to attack SF as not being real Republicans and being bank robbers and unreformed terrorists. But this is all talk and brand rivalry, and it will vanish as soon as Ministerial seats go a begging. Remember how FF also slammed the PDs and Labour at election time, and then went into Government with them.

And if Fianna Fail really was so appalled by the prospect of coalition with Sinn Fein, and what this might do to public spending and the Government finances, then it could always form a proper coalition government (or even merge) with its identical twin, Fine Gael. This would be the natural fit. And one that most voters would support, especially in middle Ireland.

But then that would be logical thing to do, and we don’t do logic in Irish politics Instead, the two parties keep scrapping away like Punch and Judy, and work to protect their jobs, their expenses and their distinctive personalities. And to do that, Fianna Fail must – and ultimately will be happy to – share power with their new ‘old enemy’ Sinn Fein, as opposed to their more palatable old ‘old enemy’ Fine Gael.

Meanwhile, the country’s problems mount up while the political game is played.