Why any near term coalition between FF and SF is unlikely…

World By Storm has come to the following conclusion...

…it is very very unlikely that while the FF party has a heartbeat, so to speak, that it will enter into a unity government with FG. Indeed the very most that might occur would be a sort of reverse ‘Tallaght strategy’. And as demonstrated by FF in recent times they’re not above getting the digs into FG and the government even now in our supposed time of crisis.

Still, the Phoenix makes the point that for FF SF remains the ‘most logical coalition party’ even above and beyond a coalition with a rump LP and a ‘rag-bag of Independents’. Whether that day comes to pass remains to be seen.

It seems to me that what escapes most observers in the Republic about both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail is that neither party thinks in single electoral terms, even if journalists and voters are both compelled to.

The thing is this Irish government’s policy (largely set for them by FF and the Troika) might just work in time for the next General Election, sufficient to save the worst damage currently on the cards for Labour in Dublin and enough to keep the pair of them well ahead of any gains FF/SF might make.

Since 2011, nothing is as predictable as it was in Irish politics. FF have made gains, but that’s just its core vote. What buoyed it up to past levels was its broad popularity amongst non politically engaged types. It won’t want to go into government until it makes headway in that territory.

And as for SF going into government, lay to one side the fact that they have the largest and most practiced oppositionalist muscle of any party on the island, I cannot see them going for anything that ties them too closely to a party they ultimately want to replace.

The rule in Irish electoral politics is that the more parties are alike the less likely they are ever likely to want to work together.

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  • John Ó Néill

    There are other factors being overlooked a bit here, though. As opinion polls were reporting the stabilising of projected support for FG and FF in and around the mid-20s, there was much trumpeting of the return of the two party system by FFers on social media reflecting the mutuality in the relationship bewteen the two parties. If there are any discernible differences between the two parties, it is largely in how they deliver the message rather than any variation in the substantial content. Their reluctance to govern which each other merely ensures that whoever is providing vocals, the backing track stays the same.

    The other trend is electoral – from about 1960 to 1982, the combined Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael vote in general elections was over 80%, this has continually drifted down, being 71-73% in the rest of the 1980s, 60-70% in the 1990s, 54% in 2011 and now hovering below 50% (albeit in the opinion polls). If this is replicated in a general election, the Dáil arithmetic may mean that the opportunity would be there for both SF and Labour to refuse to form a coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, leaving them no choice but to form a coalition (other than a further election). The jokers in the pack would be the number of (non-left) independents returned and whether it is a strategy that would be endorsed and followed through on by both SF and whatever the front bench of Labour looks like at the time.

    The space to watch here is actually Labour. Many of its current front bench seem unlikely to stand again and it clearly needs to position itself somewhere in the political spectrum beyond being an available coalition partner to anyone who will have them. Effectively Labour can continue to do what is doing, although this looks it may come with a heavy (and possibly increasingly heavy) electoral penalty, or, it, Sinn Féin, the ULA and other left-leaning TDs can force politics into a different structural frame by refusing to provide a mudguard for further continuations of government from the centre-right. The unrest in Labour or the threa of a full surfacing of the weakened join between old Labour and DL/WP/OSF seems to have abated somewhat and all are probably hoping for the summer recess of the Oireachtas for a breather. At the same time the tensions between the coalition partners and within Labour haven’t simply gone away and given how accident prone the government front bench have got who knows what is coming down the tracks.

  • Mick Fealty

    I agree with most of that John. And I’ve said from the get after the next election that Labour was the party most vulnerable to a strong pitch from SF.

    The short lived war against FF was for those urban based C2s (who went to Labour) and who got burnt by the housing slump and have high levels of personal debt.

    The truth is that neither big party can ever hope to gain 80% of the vote again because their blanket hold at local level is fragmenting.

    Seems to me that SF have not been sure about how to project themselves into the southern market. Angry young radicals, the Nordie Party down south, or alternative Fianna Fail?

    But two things you can be sure of, FF will not partner SF until the power relationship has been finessed into a death grip in their favour. And vice versa.

    I make that a mutual stand off, for some time to come.

  • Paulk

    Personally i’d agree, I’d seriously doubt FF/FG/ A N Other will form a governing coalition with SF in the near or distant future. On the simple basis that SF will not be allowed to be in government in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It would be a nightmare for any British government never mind any Irish one.

    Unionists in NI (not really a self confident bunch at the best of times) would have an apoplexy.

    Also can you imagine any negotiations between a British govt. and an Irish govt. (with SF) about Northern Ireland? the mind boggles at the thought!

    SF will continue to be the party of protest, and may/will add to their seats, but none of the other parties in the Dail will ever think of forming a government with them precisely because of their sucess in NI.

  • John Ó Néill

    I think that is a pretty FF-heavy analysis of SF, Mick. The local elections next year will more clearly identify exactly what the relationships are at grassroots level. FF have been rebuilding and much of what you have said about SF actually applies to FF at local levels across the south where its structures fragmented or were exposed as defunct during the meltdown of the last government. But both, for different reasons, probably feel they are moving in the right direction.
    With the amount of potential flux it could create, some strategic considerations of FF, FG and SF will have to wait and see what happens after Labour tries to recalibrate itself. Until then there are a few too many unknowns for planning for the next general election.

  • Mick Fealty

    Again, I don’t disagree with any of that.

    The locals will be a test. And in fact, we should see a hell of boost for SF then, since 09 was a standstill year for them (and they lost four out of 54 councillors to defections).

    FF on the other hand have to gain 84 seats just to get back to their previous position, which at this moment in time is deeply unlikely.