Some more thoughts on the coalition debate

Posted: July 9, 2018 in Uncategorized

The Dáil term looks set to close with whimper not a bang. The phoney war of words between Leo and Micheál may excite some in the newsrooms but the public remain nonplussed. There will be no summer election.

Those benefiting from Fine Gael’s two tier Republic of Inequality want stability. The rest are simply trying to get by on low wages, high living costs and the fear of homelessness or illness.

Pascal Donoghue’s Summer Economic Statement sent two clear messages to the public. For those benefiting from his unequal recovery the ship is steady and will stay the course. For those still living with the legacy of austerity -the 700,000 people on hospital waiting lists and the 10,000 people without a home- the message is suck it up and get to the back of the queue.

These two realities are not only related, they are interdependent. The prosperity of the few is dependent on the precarity of the many. The Governments decision not to invest all of the available fiscal space in 2019 is not about prudence but about maintaining the status quo – a status quo that sees the number of children living in emergency accommodation increase by a shocking 80% since this Government came to office.

Think about it for a second. Prudence means acting with or showing care and thought for the future. Pascal’s so called prudence means it will take significantly longer to end the crises in housing and health. How is it prudent to leave a child in emergency accommodation for any longer than is absolutely necessary? How is it prudent to leave a grandparent in agony waiting ever longer for that crucial knee or hip replacement?

Pascal’s prudence is code for stability for the few while the rest continue to suffer for the decades of underinvestment of administrations led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

With Government satisfaction consistently below 50% the public may not want an election but they certainly want change. And here in lies the conundrum.

Opinion polls have remained stubbornly stable since the last general election. There have been some minor gains for Fine Gael under Leo and Sinn Féin under Mary Lou with corresponding losses for Fianna Fáil from their post election gains and independents facing a modest squeeze.

Could this be explained by a desire for change from a large section of the electorate who nonetheless remain unconvinced as to where that change will come from? Or put another way – political parties core support remains solid but floating voters, many struggling to get by, want change but don’t believe its possible.

Decades of corrupt and incompetent governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have convinced many people that the electoral game is rigged. Smaller parties, no matter what promise of change they make, deliver little as junior coalition partners. Those parties that remain permanently on the sidelines offer no better hope for the future.

And yet as Together for Yes, Marriage Equality and Right2Water clearly show, there is an appetite and willingness among a majority of people to get involved when real change is offered and crucially if they are given the opportunity to shape and deliver that change.

So just as these campaigns for social and economic change broke the mound so too must those political parties and independents who are committed to building a different kind of Ireland.

Thankfully the changing nature of the Dáil is changing the debate about coalition and future options for progressive politics in Government. No longer is the discussion corralled into the question of senior and junior partners. The narrowing electoral arithmetic means new options may well be available on the other side of the next general election.

Enda Kenny’s offer of a co-equal partnership to Micheal Martin in 2016 was a game changer the significance of which few commentators have fully understood. The prospect of a slightly smaller party having an equal number of cabinet seats and an equal role in shaping the programme for government is an entirely different proposition to what has gone before.

Electoral fragmentation also offers new possibilities if parties and independents of the Left are willing to caucus prior to any post election negotiations to ensure a cohesive Progressive Bloc. Such a ‘combine and conquer’ strategy would ensure both strength at cabinet table and substance in the programme for government.

Ultimately this will all be determined by the electorate. Some will say that based on two years of opinion polls such scenarios are fanciful. Yet nobody predicted the scale of the Yes vote in the Repeal referendum. Equally nobody believed the size of the Right2Water mobilisations were possible until they happened.

The lesson is not to ignore the polls but to understand that when those people hungry for change are offered a project they can believe in, they will not only support it but mobilise to make it happen.

Sinn Féin wants to lead a progressive left republican Government delivering on Irish unity and social and economic justice for all. However if the voters don’t give us that mandate at the next general election let nobody think that the only options left on the table are standing on the sidelines or capitulating to the agenda of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

This article was first published in the Sunday Business Post on 8.7.18

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