Fine Gael on Sinn Féin: “We couldn’t work with them”

Something to keep in mind when criticising others…  There was a bit of a kerfuffle following Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s mid-term non-answer to a question on the potential for any future coalition involving Sinn Féin.  The Irish Examiner records Enda Kenny saying

While strongly ruling out doing any deal with Fianna Fáil, Enda Kenny said “depending on the result you gave as a member of the electorate, politicians have to work with the result, so, Sinn Féin seem to be converted now to a position of changing their stance”.

But he said working with SF is “not going to arise” in the current administration.

And the report (26 January) adds

Previously Enda Kenny has said Sinn Féin weren’t fit to be in government here, but today the Taoiseach was more measured.

“I saw the comment from the Deputy Leader of the Sinn Féin party, so I’m glad to understand that they now begin to realise that in order to get things done you need to be in there so I’m not going to make any further comment on that.

“Obviously the Sinn Féin party I think have only voted on a European issue once in terms of favour, so maybe it’s the beginning of a long journey for them.”

The question itself was premised on a non-answer from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald on potentially joining a government coalition as a junior partner – which would be a break with previously stated party policy.  From the Irish Times 26 January.

The “ideal scenario” for the party is to hold the larger number of seats in a coalition, Ms McDonald said. Asked if she would consider entering power as a junior partner, she said: “You are right. That is a conversation that we need to be having between now and the next election.

That non-answer was amplified by the existential angst evident in Gerry Adams’ comments to Pat Leahy in a subsequent interview

Previously the party had insisted it would only join a left-led government. Is this a recasting of the party’s political strategy in the South?

“I have to say, I never really subscribed to that notion of a left-wing government, certainly not in the short-term. I mean, who are the left?”

As Pat Leahy described it in the Irish Times on Saturday

Of course Kenny didn’t really make a bold move towards coalition with Sinn Féin. He merely responded to questions from political correspondents in Government Buildings on Thursday by observing (truthfully) that he had ruled out Fianna Fáil before the last election and ended up doing business with Micheál Martin soon afterwards. At a live podcast later that evening in The Irish Times building, Leo Varadkar expressed opposition to the idea but echoed Kenny’s remarks regarding saying one thing about Fianna Fáil before the election and doing another after the election. For good measure, Varadkar added that Fine Gael had done the same thing with the Independents. Interestingly, I understand Varadkar was not aware of Kenny’s earlier remarks, so this somewhat philosophical approach may be general across the Fine Gael hierarchy, who have learned after six years in government that absolute positions can tend to box you into corners.

On Saturday Enda Kenny moved off the fence to reiterate Fine Gael party policy on Sinn Féin in coalition

In a statement issued today, Mr Kenny said: “The Fine Gael Party position is, has been and will remain, not to enter into coalition government with Sinn Fèin.

“As I have stated many times previously I don’t believe the parties to be in anyway compatible, in particular on economic issues where Sinn Féin policy would lead to massive job losses and seriously undermine business and investment.”

And from the same RTÉ report

Earlier today, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor said there was no way Fine Gael would ever enter into coalition with Sinn Féin.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Marian Finucane Show, she said: “Sinn Féin have a lot of questions to answer, politically, what they have done in the past. And for me looking at it from inside the ministry for jobs, enterprise and innovation, but especially enterprise, I do not believe that their policies on finance are coherent.

“We couldn’t work with them”, she said.

Later speaking on RTÉ’s Saturday with Claire Byrne, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys, said it was an understatement to say it was premature to be talking about a Fine Gael coalition with Sinn Féin.

But back to Pat Leahy in the Irish Times, who notes that “Mary Lou McDonald quite deliberately opened the door on coalition, suggesting a reversal of Sinn Féin’s attitude to the question and particularly to doing business with either of the two big two parties.”

From the Irish Times article on Saturday

Sinn Féin is facing up to the fact that its political strategy in the last election campaign didn’t come off. Then the party ruled out coalition with either of the two big parties, betting instead that they would be forced to coalesce, leaving Sinn Féin free to dominate the opposition and subsequently lead a broad left-wing coalition (that was when Gerry knew who the left were) after the following election, perhaps in 2020 or 2021. But the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil and the minority Government wrong-footed that plan, and Sinn Féin must now figure out two things: one, where its future growth lies; two, what its path to government is.

There has not been, I am told, discussion of this yet in the party. Indeed, there was some consternation among the ranks when they first learned of Mary Lou’s remarks. But activists can see the political logic of the situation, and they know that approaching the election with the same “no coalition” message as the last election shuts off a lot of voters from them. Essentially the party must decide whether it pitches itself at lower-middle-class, Fianna Fáil and Labour-inclined voters, or whether it can more profitably target the seats held by the Independent and radical left TDs.

The choice is a stark one because the two approaches are largely mutually exclusive, and they are offered definition by the question of the approach to coalition.

The instinct of all Irish politicians is often to sit on the fence, but sometimes that’s impossible. Ultimately the choice will define where on the political spectrum the party wishes to place itself – centre-left, or farther towards the radical end of the spectrum. In other words, Sinn Féin will be identified by its attitude towards the essential distributional questions of politics: how to take and from whom? How much to spend and where? Like everyone else is. In other words: how left wing does the party want to be?

This may be what Adams was talking about in his musings about the left. Sinn Féin has seen very significant growth in the last two elections, though it has not swept all before it like some people hoped and others feared. Now the party faces a significant choice. Given how the party leadership privately made the choice of successor to Martin McGuinness last week, it will interesting to see how this debate proceeds.



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  • file

    Eoin O’Broin has a different take on your headline, but he too, like Kearney, is probably being treated like a mushroom:
    “Eoin O’Broin asked if Mr Kenny was ‘having a laugh’? “Why would any self-respecting republican want to be in a coalition with a right-wing partitionist party?” [Irish Times 28/1/17]

  • Jag

    Is that the same Eoin O’Broin who writes in today’s Sunday Business Post “Coalition is problematic, but Sinn Féin wants power” and “‘Co-equal’ partnership with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil is an option for Sinn Féin”

    What the past week has told me is SF is now a third force in Irish politics, alongside FF and FG and it may manoeuvre itself into a kingmaking position in the not-too-distant future.

    I’d ignore Enda last week, he may just as well have been trying to put manners on FF by introducing the prospect of a FG/SF government.

  • the rich get richer

    Fine Gael may have glimpsed into the Future Post Brexit……… It May be interesting…….

  • file

    Probably, but as I said, he was being treated like a mushroom.

  • Katyusha

    This clarification from Kenny came soon after SF flatly rejected their advances, in rather amusing fashion. A face-saving exercise from FG, having allowed themselves to publicly muse about what their own electoral weakness means for them, is all.

  • ted hagan

    Coalitions destroy the smaller party as has been shown time and time again in the Republic. Sinn Fein are no different… their hard-won support wouldn’t touch FG with a barge pole. It would be a total sell-out.

  • Jag

    “A total sell-out”?

    Like abandoning the NAMA inquiry at the finance committee, with SF’s two members of that committee voting in unison with the four DUP members, preventing the UUP/SDLP/TUV from resuming the inquiry. Was the quid pro quo the DUP wouldn’t seek the head of Mairtin O’Muilleoir for his speculated about (denied by Mairtin) involvement in the Jamie Bryson coaching scandal, and SF wouldn’t press for the inquiry which was focussing on DUP links to the money (denied by the DUP)? I don’t know but SF did sell out. It happens in politics. Pragmatists call it compromise.

  • ted hagan

    I’m referring solely to Southern politics and its history of coalitions.
    What mutates in the North is still at the tadpole stage, if that.

  • Jag

    Ah, but principles are a luxury enjoyed by a minority Opposition. Didn’t Shane Ross and John Halligan both have absolute principles until the day they entered government.

    Do you think SF would be any different. Do you think its members and representatives are fundamentally different to all other politicians. Maybe they’re hatched like those aliens in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Or maybe they’re politicians just like the rest who (a) want power for personal and patriotic reasons and (b) will compromise/sell their own mothers to hang onto said power.

  • ted hagan

    The PDs sought power, the Greens sought power. Labour sought power (twice) in coalitions. They all thought they were being clever. They all thought they could tweak their principles to suit the bigger party. They were all annihilated at the polls. There must be a lesson there for Sinn Fein.