Will Irish Labour take lessons from the British experience of coalition?

The Guardian’s Wintour and Watt blog warns the Irish Labour party of the risks of taking the Clegg coalition route.  Yet it’s still hard to believe that the coalition dance in Dublin is much more than a ritual.  Comparisons partly depend on your outlook. Pro- Labour opinion in Britain likes to think that the Lib Dems are doomed already and warn Irish Labour against a similar fate. Gilmore’s Labour will know all too well that no Fine Gael  led ( correction)  coalition has ever been re-elected.  And this time the stakes have never been higher.

One notable difference between the British and Irish approach seems clear already. Eamonn Gilmore and co are dead against imposing  third level tuition fees. The storm over the Lib Dem broken pledge makes it impossible for them to back down. Labour negotiator  Brendan Howlin creates the impression of Labour standing firm.  Can the deal be sealed by the weekend?

Labour’s talks with Fine Gael would be “profound and stark”. Fine Gael has set more onerous targets for reducing the national debt (a €9 billion adjustment by 2014, at which time the target of 3 per cent is reached) and has also said that there should be a ratio of about 2½ to 1 between cuts and expenditure.

However, neither party has identified any of those positions as red-line issues, over which they would not compromise.

The only issues publicly identified as “red-line” by Labour are in relation to child benefit and third-level fees.

Fintan O’Toole is looking for a different kind of stability from the one that appears to be on offer.

THERE IS overwhelming agreement that the most important outcome of the election is a stable government. When there’s overwhelming agreement about anything in Irish politics, it is usually wrong.

Time will soon tell whether his version of the “ democratic revolution”  lies beyond the terms  of mainstream political debate or will  be proved  to be the one that got away.

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  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    Turning down the chance of power can and does happen – but not so sure about in Ireland .

    Arguably the British Labour Party opted for opposition, or at least did not try that hard for it when according to the LibDems they were available to do a deal.

    ..and the fees issue is a bit of a nonsense as they simply have and will increase the registration charges.

  • Sean Og

    “Gilmore’s Labour will know all too well that no Irish coalition has ever been re-elected.”

    I think Bertie Ahern’s FF/PD coalition was re-elected.

  • Brian,

    Your probably correct about it being nothing more than a ritual dance, but theres the problem as I see it. This election ‘could’ be a game changing event and the LP leadership seem to be clueless about this fact. If they enter a coalition as the junior partners they will be playing by the old rules of the game, to scared to grab the opportunity this situation offer them up.

    There is no doubt in my mind, bar a little tinkering around the edges any FG led government will stick to the Neo-liberal economic agenda. That means in reality bleeding the Irish people dry over the next parliament. These folk will never go out on a lim against power, (in this case the markets and its political gofers in the EU)

    Thus come the next election FG will in all probability be as unpopular as FF are now, thus if Labour led the opposition they would not only be in a better place to defend their core electorate, they would be positioning themselves to form the next government as the majority party. Still to achieve this will take balls and I wonder whether the sticks have it?

  • Banjaxed

    Having spoken to a few Irish Labour Party activists over the last couple of days, each one, separately, is resigned to the fact that the LP, in government, will be savaged by the left both in the Dail and in the country. They all realise, of course, that the country is broke and that they will need to take some god-awful decisions to get it back on track. That might mean doing a Cleggy, although no one could see the LP going that far to the right. Nonetheless, if the coalition can’t make a fist of it, compromises or not, the junior partner will, as ever, end up with the sh*tty end of the stick. So there’s the rub – do you save the country or your party?

  • “That might mean doing a Cleggy, although no one could see the LP going that far to the right.”


    Few people, myself included thought the Lib Dems would move so far to the right, but they did. One of the problems once in government, it has a natural momentum to drift to the right, serving the national interest and all that crap gets blown into ministers ears daily. Look at the trajectory of the Irish greens once they entered office.

    Of course in reality the national interests is only what the more powerful sections of society can force upon us.

  • George

    Gilmore’s Labour will know all too well that no Irish coalition has ever been re-elected.

    I’m with Seán Óg on this on. That’s not strictly true as the PD’s did go in the FF in 2002 and 2007 although they needed the help of the Greens in the second term.

    Also, there seems to be a misconception going about that FG and Labour are miles apart from each other when it comes to policy, I’m not so sure.

    Firstly, Labour does not have a far left wing anymore, it’s all soft centre left / liberal. Both will implement the EU/IMF deal slavishly, the rest is just dressing.

    Gilmore has so far refused to confirm that either children’s benefit or fees are red line issues. What he will probably do is ensure nothing this year but if things don’t improve then all bets are off.

    As for taxes, both say no rises but Labour say rises for those earning over 100k.

    Both say cut PS numbers but FG say 30k and Labour say 18k.

    FG say implement EU/IMF by 2014 while Labour say 2016.

    Hardly huge differences in policy truth be told.

    So we can see already that the likely deal is a reduction in certain reliefs for those on over 100k, a reduction of 24k in PS numbers and EU/IMF implemented by 2015.

    The fun and games will begin 12 months from now.

  • Henry94

    Labour doesn’t need any lessons from the Lib Dems on this issue. Their own history should be warning enough. As for how far to the right they will move we can recall Barry Desmond as Minister for Health handing money back to the Dept. of Finance so determined was he to cut spending.

  • Brian Walker

    Sean Og Thanks. I really did mean to add: “any Fine Gael coalition” was re-elected” Will correct. To other prophets of the character of FG in office: give them a chance, guys!

  • Munsterview

    Yes Labour well appreciates what it is getting itself into and it will cause some heart searching.

    However as the old saying goes ‘ whenever Labor wrestles with its conscience, Labor usually wins!’

    This time will be no different.