Thursday, October 16, 2014

Post-2016: A Dáil in Chaos?

Was it for this etc.?
Much recent commentary on the rise of independents has begun to extrapolate current trends into and beyond the next general election.  Pat Rabbitte said he feared for the very future of politics.  It does indeed seem as if we are in for a period of political turbulence.

Bookmaker Paddy Power has the projected state of the parties - albeit a long way out - at (give or take) 32 for Fianna Fáil, 49 for Fine Gael, 32 for Sinn Féin, 12 for Labour, and 30 for 'others'.  Given those numbers, and particularly should Fine Gael drop a few points, it will be extremely difficult to form a stable government.  Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would have 81 seats, which would be a majority of three in the new 158 seat Dáil. One or two overboard and things become very tight indeed. Revisiting the abortion debate would be bound to incur a casualty or two. And all of that is presuming that Fianna Fáil is happy to define itself as comfortably centrist with its centrist buddies in Fine Gael, as opposed to anti-treaty republicans.  One option might be a titular Government of National Unity, emphasizing the peacemaking credentials of Fianna Fáil, building on the legacy of Bertie Ahern, whose less glorious indiscretions will be starting to fade into the distance.  Still, they will be reminded of what happens to smaller parties in coalition - what they themselves did to the Greens and the PDs, and should the Labour vote be destroyed as these polls project, that proof point too.

2015 will be a year of persistent strife in relation to Irish Water.  Protests will get louder, especially now that austerity is seen to be over. That assertion - wrong as it is - will be difficult to deny for a government heading into an election, and there may be significant back pedaling. It will certainly create a strong environment for more anti-establishment independents.  Any retrenchment in the global economy - worries on ebola, and sluggish EU growth amongst other things have markets depressed right now - could further impact on growth, and by extension the latitude available to the government for a giveaway budget next October.  It is fairly straightforward to see how such headwinds could worsen the seat projections above, dampening the Fine Gael vote, and strengthening that of Sinn Féin and the independents.  Fianna Fáil's persistence in broadly supporting the government's economic correction undermines their anti-government credentials, and therefore it's hard to see them benefiting from anything other than returning Fianna Fáil voters.  Sinn Féin's fumble on water charges hasn't helped them, but careful management should see them continue to grow, particularly in difficult times.

If therefore we were to see Fine Gael slip to 45 seats, and 'Others' were to benefit to 35 seats, with Sinn Féin pulling ahead of Fianna Fáil - let's say 34 to 30 - we would have a situation where 'others' represented the second largest grouping in the Dáil.  While Fine Gael would remain the largest, its majority would be inconsequential in the greater scheme of things; its mandate to lead would have been significantly eroded.  Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would not between them command a majority, though it's possible that "gene-pool independents" could be co-opted to make up the numbers.  Who would want to be a whip!

At this remove it looks unlikely that we will find ourselves at an impasse, providing that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil play nice. Otherwise, there will be an enormous scramble to avoid blame, negotiations will be protracted (as in Belgium, Italy), and life will go on, demonstrating to Irish people how actually irrelevant politicians are in the greater scheme of things.  In the absence of true vision and leadership, they have for some time been pretty useless.

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