Why a Grand Coalition would be a Grand Mistake for Fianna Fail

There is a lot of talk about coalitions and minority governments going on these days since the Irish electorate gave a collective “huh?” to the main parties.

As I noted earlier there have now been the first talks between the Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader about possibly forming some sort of grand coalition.

It has to happen some commentators say and it has surely been a long time coming, but I want to give a different perspective as to why I think this grand coalition, would be a very grand mistake for Fianna Fail.

Governing- It is often said that the people are arguing for a government. However this presumes that the average punter in the street gives Dail party games a second thought. As we have learned from our own experiences of fragile coalitions, life goes on, people still go to work and will only focus on the situation when they have to. This shouting is coming from the press corps, more than the public.

Policy not perks- The Fine Gael statement last night tells me two things; 1) they have essentially learned nothing from their defeat. What got the last government into trouble was thinking they could appoint their way out of trouble and buy off people with nice posts. That is essentially what Kenny is trying to do now.

2)  Fianna Fail needs to show that this is not about posts, but policy. Irish Water, USC, Housing Crisis and Healthcare are the order of the day and before anything is entertained there needs to be real concessions from Fine Gael over these policies before anything is even remotely considered.

Stability- Is there a virtue in making a deal with a Fine Gael leader who is clearly going to be given his exit ticket sometime in the near future? Gordon Brown tried to offer a caretaker role for himself in 2010 and the Liberal Democrats quickly realised how unworkable that situation would be. Agreeing a deal with Kenny now will quickly become unworkable as others in the party will move to install a new leader in time for the next election.

Trust- Coalitions work essentially at the top; whether it was Cosgrave & Corish, Bruton & Spring or Ahern & Harney, if the two leaders don’t trust each other then it wont work. What a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail coalition will create is essentially two silo administrations competing with one another and open to division.  Trying to play as one team will be incredibly difficult and a caretaker government now, is better than a bad government.

The German example- Remember in 2005 when Germany had a deadlocked election? Gerhard Schroeder, the outgoing SPD Chancellor, had negotiated a parity agreement with the CDU over cabinet posts and it looked like he had gained the upper hand over Angela Merkel. I don’t think I need to point out to you how that worked out at the next election.

A government can only have one Taoiseach at a time; Dick Spring was a very vocal Tánaiste  during his tenure, but Reynolds & Bruton were still clearly the leaders of their respective administrations. There is some temptation to think that you can have some sort of parity agreement between the leaders. Only problem is that when somebody becomes Taoiseach, it is very hard to get any leader to voluntarily give it up.

Overall, coalitions should be about what is best for the country. The dynamics of a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition to my mind are unstable and unworkable. Ireland doesn’t need a coalition for the sake of having a coalition, it needs a government that can chart a course for five years and implement a plan. Maybe these issues could be overcome, but Fianna Fail was given a mandate to put this government out of office. That mandate should be respected and if proper policy changes cannot be achieved, then it is up to the Irish people to pass judgement again. On February 26th, the electorate voted largely with their hearts, they cannot be surprised that Fianna Fail follow theirs in opposing a grand coalition with Fine Gael.

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  • terence patrick hewett

    Of course this is the advantage of FPTP: not only do you get a new administration within 24hrs: you get to throw garbage at him as he comes out of the official residence for the last time:)

  • Nevin

    TPH, that would depend upon the size of the third party and the difference between the top two, in the absence of an overall majority. cf UK elections in the Home Rule era.

  • Anglo-Irish

    FPTP has definite advantages as far as the politicians are concerned, which is why it isn’t going to get changed any time soon.

    Obviously as far as being democratic and reflecting the wishes of the people is concerned it’s a complete disaster, but who do the electorate think they are anyway?

    Belgium went 589 days without a government, it has a population of over 11 million and no real problem occurred, which begs the question as to what exactly these people do all day.

    Ireland is fortunate to have the PR system even though it may occasionally cause problems to politicians, which personally I consider to be a bonus, while they’re running around trying to sort something out they’re not bothering us so much.

  • the rich get richer

    There is the example of the “Joint First Minister of Northern Ireland” though the DUP believe that One Joint First Minister is more equal than another.

  • Nevin

    “Enda Kenny loses Dáil vote for Taoiseach – 80 to 51; Micheál Martin also loses vote, 95 to 43, with Ruth Coppinger losing, 108 to 10”

    No meeting of minds there; the independents offer mandate to neither Enda nor Micheál.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Has Gerry volunteered?

    Sorry, poor choice of words there, Gerry was never a volunteer.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Who the hell cares what’s best for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin. If they all want to cower in opposition and leave Ireland hanging dry let them all feel the wrath of do it yourself willing to govern independents.

    Find some sort of common ground majority with any group of collective mandates that can find a majority and pass things if they are financially and logistically feasible.

    If a new government has to be found to pass a budget one year and a different one the next, so be it.

  • Kevin Breslin

    We could have an agreed third party Taoiseach, like they have an agreed Third Party Prime Minister in Belgium and an agreed Third Party Justice Minister in Northern Ireland.

    Taoiseach Micheal Healy Rae has a good ring to it.

  • the rich get richer



    In the Event of another election I think that the Public should know which of their TDs like to have time off and not in any hurry to form a government .

    If there is another election do they get paid while the election contest is on ?

  • Nevin

    AI, he would have done better than Ruth – but he still would have been thrashed.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The disadvantage is you skew democracy against parties who have large national power base but limited constituency level and you get ruled by a government 70% would never vote for. Effectively FPTP is a tyranny of the minority system but hey it’s quick to let a group which represents only a third of the people represent the other two thirds.

    Imagine a Northern Ireland being run exclusively by an Sinn Féin-SDLP coalition.

  • Anglo-Irish

    I can picture it now, St Patrick.s Day 2017 The White House, President Trump greets Taoiseach Healy Rae. Trump isn’t exactly certain what the Taoiseach said to him but taking no chances the US Marine Corp land on Banna Strand the following day.

  • Anglo-Irish

    That’s what they said about Trump, and hopefully they’ll turn out to be right.

    People are that totally disenchanted by the usual politicians that it opens the door for extremists and nut jobs.

    Farage’s support would have brought Ukip 83 seats under PR, despite the fact that I detest Ukip I believe in democracy and the representation of the views of the people.

    Had we been using PR in Britain for years we may not have got to this position of disillusion with the ongoing stitch up.

    No party has formed a government in Britain since WW2 having achieved even 50% of all votes cast.


    Tony Blair formed a government which held a majority of 66 seats in 2005 although Labour only received 35.2% of all votes cast.

    To describe the UK as a democracy is stretching the definition to breaking poit.

  • Nevin

    AI, I’ve had a look at that UK list; the LibDems are still given a mention in the 2015 election as the third party even though they were well behind in fourth place, both in terms of number of MPs and in vote share.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Yes you’re right the SNP should have been included in third place.

    Goes to show an English centric bias, although that’s difficult to believe! : )

  • Gingray

    No no no!

  • Nevin

    Do you reckon Kimber should be Keele-hauled?

  • Anglo-Irish

    Well, Richard should certainly be given a stern talking to.

    And his alma mater will no doubt consider whether or not to get him to walk the plank.

  • Nevin

    The UK, Ireland and similar states are representative democracies where the Governments of the day act in the best interests of their financial sponsors – [OOPs] – the people.

  • murdockp

    nick clegg in the uk paid the second fiddle price. dangerous move

  • Nevin

    “Why a Grand Coalition would be a Grand Mistake for Fianna Fail”

    David, would it not also be a mistake for Fine Gael? I note your choice of a smiling Micheál rather than a hands-on Micheál.

  • Kevin Breslin

    When someone speaks about Micheál Martin’s hand guestures I always think of the Micheál Martin Spider hand pose by Mario Rosenstock.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Not an existential truth of coalition politics … and you don’t have to go back as far as Hitler for the last time a junior coalition partner was capable of taking over the show.

    Sinn Féin and the DUP aside, there are also this lot.


  • Ulick

    So why was my post not published? Slugger not like commenters disagreeing with their OP/Bloggers?

  • tmitch57

    Israel, which has only had coalition governments since its independence, has a long experience of national unity governments involving the two leading parties (Likud/Gahal, and the Labor Party). Most of these national unity governments were failures, but in 1984 when there was a virtual tie between the two main party blocs, a national unity government with rotation of the premiership between the two main parties halfway through the term proved to be quite successful. This coalition allowed Israel both to cure its hyper-inflation and to withdraw from most of Lebanon in 1985 following the First Lebanon War in 1982. If the problems confronting the country are severe enough then arrangements should be made to allow for a grand coalition. Germany also experienced a successful grand coalition in the 1960s.

  • Anglo-Irish

    In fairness their financial sponsors come second in line in their priorities.

    They themselves come first and then the sponsors, coincidentally, the two tend to gell quite well together in a mutually beneficial back scratching way.

    The general public on the other hand are useful only as an ongoing cash cow, deprived of contacts and offshore ‘ arrangements’ they have no option but to pay up.

    Every four years or so the politicians go through a charade where they pretend to give a rats derriere about what we think. Then after maybe having to sit in a different position in the room it’s business as usual.

  • Croiteir

    I agree. Back to the polls and another roll of the dice

  • Croiteir

    No. You need some sort of stability and policy led administration

  • Croiteir

    No. They are the lead. It is in their interests and theirs alone

  • Kevin Breslin

    A volatile liquid is more stable than a volatile gas.

  • Nevin

    “has already withdrawn from Northern Ireland.”

    This will be news to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Gf, and to its Belfast ‘ambassador’!

  • Zig70

    Run me the differences in the parties and policies again. I seemed to miss it. If FF want FG out, they could offer SF a hand. Nobody voted for SF on policy so no conflict there.

  • Croiteir

    I am not interested in the chemical laboratory Kevin

  • Nevin

    Some died for Ireland in 1916, Gf, whereas the Irish ‘ambassador’ in Belfast and his colleagues will dine for Ireland – when they’re not lobbying for irredentist Irish nationalism. The Notting Hillbillies were a country rock group; the Notting Hillliams dance to a different tune.

  • DOUG

    There was an item on Last Week Tonight about that very issue this past week.
    Very interesting.
    The number of fundraisers they attend as ridiculous.
    Over 100 fund raising events per year, sometimes 2 or 3 in a day.
    Fundraising breakfast, lunch events and late suppers.

  • Nevin

    Gf, I was just gently pointing out that Irish governments haven’t withdrawn from NI affairs; they tend to operate mainly below the radar, well the Slugger radar.

  • Nevin

    “Nevin whether they have or haven’t hardly matters anymore.”

    A different point, Gf; you’re initial assertion was wrong.

  • Nevin

    Gf, Joe and Josey may well have been in the dark but the Irish political establishment knew the score before 1968 and it did a runner to protect Ireland’s institutions.

    I’m interested in the quality and nature of governance so I shed a light in various dark corners. Don’t be surprised if MI5 and MI6 are playing to different agendas.

  • Nevin

    Perhaps you should turn to the Fifth Estate, Gf; those that Governments have little or no influence over.

  • Nevin

    I had in mind London and Dublin and, to some extent, Washington when it comes to the Northern Ireland question. For example, the BBC was easily rolled over when it broadcast the Dick Spring briefing just once in 1996 during the course of the Athboy conspiracy. That briefing is online as a Scribd document but curiously enough doesn’t come up in a Google search.