#GE16 is shaping up to be a three (and 4/3) horse race…

I cannot think of a country whose politics is quite as malleable as Ireland’s: by which I mean the Republic, not the northern eastern bit. We take a stubborn prize in changing so slowly that our supporters barely notice the change.

So now Micheal Martin’s professing that Fianna Fail is “a bit to the left”.  That will annoy some on the right of the party, but its probably his single most effective achievement not allow the party to go raging off to the right and give them somewhere reasonably solid to hit Fine Gael from.

We are a bit to the left; historically we always have been in terms of social services, in terms of education, in terms of the health services,” he said.

“We are a party of the centre, we are not to the right of the centre. We very much believe in strong, publicly funded social services with a fair taxation system that would enable us to pay for that.

“We are pro-enterprise in facilitating indigenous companies to be able to create employment.”

And there’s Sinn Fein, who went into the last election advocating an Argentine style economic default, now adopting one of Fianna Fail’s earlier talking points of ‘a fair recovery’ after all Twitter leave was cancelled for their TDs over Christmas.

As Jason O’Mahony points out in his state of the parties blog, patience is always their ace card. On Labour, he’s not so sanguine, who he says…

…feel like the old Irish Home Rule party refusing to believe that things have changed. Pity: they haven’t been that bad in government, but they promised so so much.

It no longer seems to matter that Fine Gael pointed their ship of recovery along a line almost entirely set for them by Fianna Fail. This year the boom has gotten so boomier to the point that the current account deficit barely exists.

Stealing direction from your opponents is what successful political parties do. And in Fine Gael’s case the prize will be an historic second term. Barring unforeseen events (dear boy) it’s as near as dammit a done deal. They remain hungry, focused and with a decent story to tell.

The question is how will they get there? Although it has been pushed hard for two or three years now, the grand coalition with FF is highly unlikely. FF’s messages may be fuzzy and the narrative unclear, but the machine is in working order and they have good candidates coming through.

More importantly they need a year or two on the opposition benches to rebuild, replenish and prepare for longer term challenges. Media speculation in the last term about heaves against Martin mistook real tensions and grumblings as a serious jostling for leadership. There was no alternative.

SF won’t bite either, for two primary reasons. One, the party thrives as a protest movement. And you cannot do that in government. The ‘2016 in government’ narrative is, I suspect little more than a big juicy piece of rump steak thrown at northern journos to maximise a sense of their ambition.

Secondly, unlike Northern Ireland where coming second to the DUP confers co-equal status, Sinn Fein know (every bit as well as FF) that coming second in a voluntary coalition in Leinster House is the deadliest third rail of all in Irish politics.

Whatever the Dublin press are saying, as long as FG is clearly out in front neither scenario will happen. FG will have to patch up something from Labour, Renua, the Soc Dems and/or the rag bag independent rest. Or, they might just have do it all on their own.

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  • chrisjones2

    The great thing about mainstream Irish Policies is how little real policy differentiation there is between all the parties . Even SF for all its bluster and anti-austerity nonsense has been sucked in as there are just no votes out there on the wings.

    It then reverts to who do the voters trust. At this stage it seems clear the answer is FG.

    TIme for protests is over – lets get back to making money

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well when Labour went from Fianna Fáil partners to the Rainbow coalition, being the second in a voluntary coalition in Leinster House wasn’t the deadliest third rail of all in Irish politics. They certainly had room to maneuver at least.

  • Jag

    ” the grand coalition [between FG] with FF is highly unlikely.”

    You still banging that drum Mick. You could make a killing with Paddy Power if you believe that as they have FG/FF as frontrunners, though it’s noteworthy that the odds have recently declined from “dead cert” territory to 13/8, whilst the odds of FG/Lab have narrowed from 10/3 to 9/4.

    A FG minority is priced by PP at 4/1 today.

    SF’s best chances are at 14/1 with FF.

    There have been a couple of recent polls that have been particularly kind to FG and lesser extent Labour, and Dublin politicians love the saying “the trend is your friend”, so who knows. A FG/Lab coalition will be disaster for SF with FF remaining the main Opposition party, and the country heading into calmer economic waters. I think SF peaked in the Republic in 2014, and started to decline as the economy improved and it made a series of stupid internal decisions (like devoting nearly 100% of one of their best, Pearse Doherty, to the worthless discredited Banking Inquiry). 18 months ago, they were predicted to get 30-plus seats in GE16, now it’s around 23, I think they’ll lose a couple but will net around 10 new faces.

    I can’t see a FG minority surviving more than a few months. Nearly 50% of households have engaged in massive civil disobedience by not paying water charges. How will a FG minority government introduce measures to deal with these? Which party or Independents would go on that suicide mission and support FG?

    As for FF, FG, SF, Labour or anyone else ruling out any coalition, you risk being characterised as a dewy-eyed simpleton for giving them credit – THEY’RE LYING THROUGH THEIR TEETH.

    FG/Lab/Soc Dems/Renua/Others won’t be stable enough to endure.
    FF/SF/Lefts would be too rag-tag to be stable.
    FG/Lab at this stage don’t look as if they’ll get more than 70 (they need 80 for a majority).

    No wonder the “Dublin media” still think it will be FG/FF.

    Oh as for you sniping at SF for ordering the troops to remain in the online trenches over Christmas, you’re plainly not aware of the initiatives being deployed by others (mostly Labour as far as I can see where there are a host of new attack accounts, and it’s all gotten quite nasty in the past fortnight).

  • mickfealty

    I may just do that Jag. Good piece by Dan O’Brien suggests a better logic towards the grand coalition scenario: http://goo.gl/ajkc0H

  • mac tire

    I personally believe that FG will get the largest amount of seats. Labour are in serious trouble. FF will do (slightly) better than expected while SF will almost double their seats.

    So if it’s not FG/FF then, as Mick suggests, it will probably come down to either some hotchpotch of a rainbow coalition of FG/Labour/Renua/Indos. I believe that, paradoxically, the former would be a stronger government than the latter.

    A FG minority gov? That seems unlikely to last too long.

    So it’s all up in the air. Another election in Autumn 2016, anyone?

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘So it’s all up in the air.’

    Unless FG and FF form a grand coalition . Any other combination looks like a short term band aid . Much will depend on how badly Labour do . Given the economic outlook they may do better than expected . Renua appear to be the PD’s reborn with an ultra catholic and anti immigrant tinge so 5% would be the most they can hope for . SF will do well but not as well as they may expect . The Indies are the unknown ‘knowns ‘ Some are certs to be reelected such as Ross in Rathdown .

  • mac tire

    Indeed, I believe that it will more than likely be a FG/FF coalition – and that that would probably be the more stable arrangement (that doesn’t mean it will be stable) out of the realistic possibilities at the moment.

    More likely of all I think 2016 could well see more than one election in the 26 counties.

  • Greenflag 2

    Closer to the election it may become clearer as to what’s possible and whats definitely a non runner . And yes there could well be two GE’s the secnd probably November I’d guess if the first attempt at coalition patching falls apart.

  • mickfealty

    I’d give them till late 2017, at least. A bit like the Corbyn situation in Labour, strike too precipitately and you could end up getting hung by a very hypersensitive electorate. There will be some obligation on all of the serious opposition parties them not to play silly buggers.

  • mickfealty

    We are all entitled to our own follies Gendjinn. I’ll own mine when the time comes, if folly it proves. I think the size of the indy vote is the unknown factor here.

    For the record, I’m not listening to any of them in terms of the public statements they make (such things come and go like feathers in the wind), but from what I know of FF they will be plotting not just how to get into government but how they can get back on top when they do.

    That’s not going to happen this time and so hell will freeze over before they volutarily hand over the keys to the Republic lock stock and barrel to Fine Gael. Oddly this seems to be eluding most commentators in Dublin. Maybe that’s because I’m missing something more obvious scenario.

    I don’t see an easy or a quick road there, but the margins now needed to get to lead a government in the Republic have dropped hugely (which is also SF’s big medium to long term opportunity). And this new volatile climate is not going to change any time soon.

    They will play it long and hard is my guess. As will SF. Cute and ambitious hoors the pair of them.

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘It then reverts to who do the voters trust.”

    A lot of voters don’t trust any of them regardless of political party which is why there continues to be a large independent vote and a vote for individual high profile ‘ honest ‘ types like Shane Ross and Ruth Coppinger among others . A large number won’t even bother to vote . It will revert to which party or combination of parties can be trusted to do the least damage to the country and it’s finances as there is still a strong undercurrent which maintains that the ‘crisis ‘ brought on by reckless banksters and irresponsible and stupid politicians has’nt gone away . Not entirely anyway and the steps haven’t been taken to prevent a repeat of same .

  • Robin Keogh

    You might read up on the Argentinian default Mick as you seem to be somewhat confused. Argentina defaulted on its ligitimate sovereign debt, no party in Ireland has ever suggested we should do such a thing and certainly not SF.

    I think its admirable that you offer a silver lining to the current dark cloud that is Fianna Fail. The world and its mother know the party is in a heap. Micheal Martin is probably a good man and certainly he is well spoken but his obsession with SF and GA under orders from independent news and media has meant he took his eye off the ball.

    Martin is part of the old gaurd Fianna Fail, a set that ran the party with a mafia style steel arm adored by a cult like following in every corner of the country. Martin has been forced to try impose that steely control over his party due to the astonishing lack of respect he recieves, but it has failed miserably.

    Chaos in selection processes, chaos in trying to meet the gender quota, chaos in the wake of sex abuse alkegations unleashed by the very media organisation Martin was depending on. A cynical move to detach themselves from a man widely seen as the worst opposition leader and worst Fianna Fail leader in the history of the state.

    Martin says no government with FG and no government with SF, but most of his senior colleagues are publicly defying him and expressing the exact opposite, while his director of elections is saying FF doesnt want to be in government at all.

    Its a hot mess. one that Martin has walked himself into as an INM stooge. Not entirely his fault. We have an entire culture of fear within politics, media, business and the blogosphere where individuals have to represent deliberate untruths in order to avoid the wrath of the media giant.

    Martins left step is no more than a set of words spat out to try fool people that FF are up with, or ahead of the mood of the people. Its the last piece of the plan to bring FF back to their catch all roots and was wholly predictable given the party’s u-turn on Irish Water and its more desperate attempt to ape SF’s health policy.

    FF no doubt will have Martin’s scalp soon. For his sake maybe he should jump before he is punched, tripped and pushed.

  • Roger

    “Martin is part of the old gaurd Fianna Fail, a set that ran the party with a mafia style steel arm ”

    Hmmm, this coming from a SF supporter! Isn’t Adams part of the old SF guard (leader since 1983) who, shall we say, didn’t run a mafia style steel arm but rather ran a real life murder gang?

  • Robin Keogh

    Evidence?

  • mickfealty

    Now you are not denying Gerry is in Sinn Fein are you Robin?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Mick I once made a wrong prediction that only death would cost Peter Robinson his seat because his opposition was split between the UUP and Alliance.

    At least in my case, some sections of the electorate could’ve died. Hell’s not going to freeze over if Fianna Fáil see Fine Gael as a lesser evil to Sinn Féin/Coalition of the Willing.

  • Robin Keogh

    I would never deny the Dear Leaders place as head of the biggest party in Ireland.

  • the rich get richer

    Hopefully the electorate will coral fg/ff/lab into the one political party that they are. There is not one thing that these parties have done or are willing to do that any of the other three would not do.

    ff/fg/lad have been masquerading as three political parties when they are just one political party. Hopefully the Irish electorate will wake up to this…………..eventually.

  • mickfealty

    You operating some form of double entry book keeping there Rob? 😉

  • John Collins

    I agree that FF will not join FG in government especially as a minority partner. They may never be the force in Southern politics they once were but if they went into that arrangement they would probably go the same way the Liberal Party in Britain went about ninety years ago. One of the many problems that the Labour Party face going into this election is the age profile of many of their top players. Allied to this most of the younger ones have not had much time to consolidate their positions in their own constituencies, as many of them were only elected at the last election.