With all seats filled, and, a recount in Galway West apart, the composition of the 31st Dáil is clear. Sort of.
Basically, Fine Gael’s 76 and Labour’s 37 TDs make up a comfortable 113 governing coalition. Except that in the last 24 hours I’ve heard both sides moan about the difficulty of spreading the limited number of ministrys among their own TDs (geographically) nevermind between the two governing partners. With fifteen or so ministers plus up to ten junior ministers, whips and a new Ceann Comhairle, there will be close to 90 relatively under-used government TDs. Such a large government may be hard to keep in check.
The alternatives for Fine Gael are limited. Only around four reliably centre-right independents were returned, plus two Fianna Fáil gene-pool indos (three if you count Healy-Rae). So, if Fine Gael managed to entice all seven into supporting the government (and managed to neutralise another with the bauble of Ceann Comhairle) they would have a slim, but working majority. This, in effect, is some of the leverage Fine Gael have over Labour in the negotiating a programme for government. However, an independent-supported minority government would likely have a very limited life expectancy.
There is also the nuclear option of Fine Gael forming a coalition with Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin. The latter isn’t an option on the table and the former, while remote, may still be wafted under the Labour negotiating team’s noses.
There are six left of centre independents, plus two each from the Socialist Party and People Before Profit. Arguably, Flanagan and Mick Wallace also broadly fall into this category (publicly Wallace identifies himself more closely with the left). Would this group feel they have enough in common with each other, firstly, or, with the seven centre-right and FF-gene pool independents to form a technical group and attain various additional rights? The 10-12 left-leaning independents could even form such a group on their own and force the centre-right/FF independents onto parliamentary wasteground (as far as I know, and I could be wrong, only one technical group is allowed in the Dáil).
There is the further possibility that the left-leaning independents and Sinn Féin will find enough common ground to form a larger technical group and lead the Opposition. Fianna Fáil may even be ambivalent about having to act as the Opposition lead as they will be continually reminded of their role in the problems the government is trying to solve. With a front bench including Martin, Lenihan, O’Dea and another Cowen, Fine Gael and Labour would be able to deflect uncomfortable decisions onto the Opposition. This would have a certain amount of appeal to Sinn Féin and the left-leaning independents and smaller parties as they can present themselves as outsiders to a failed political process (although whether that stance can have any long term currency really depends on events).
The threat of this may provide Labour with some strength in bargaining with Fine Gael. Labour could decide that they would be overly threatened and rule against joining the government next Saturday (if they would prefer to lead a left-leaning opposition rather than being its main target). A lot depends on what Labour feels are the immediate lessons learnt from the election campaign (and it’s capacity to emerge as the largest party). If Labour says no, Fine Gael’s only real option, then, would then be to enter historic discussions with Fianna Fáil about forming a coalition.
As such, some of the most significant decisions that will effect how the 31st Dáil plays out will only be made this week.
Kind of makes you look forward to d’Hondt, no?