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.
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.