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Liz O’Donnell: There’s no place in Government for an inherently awkward party prone to hissy fits

The former Progressive Democrats TD warns any new government about the risky strategy about getting in bed with certain independents...

by Liz O'Donnell | February 3, 2016

So after a long lead in, it’s game on to elect a new Government and a brand new Dail. All the focus is inevitably on who will make up the numbers to form a government. But it’s not just any Government. People will be looking for competence and stability to sustain a fledgling recovery. On those grounds, the current coalition would be first choice to most punters. But a predicted flight of disaffected voters from the Labour party in particular is making that increasingly difficult. People talk about a handful of independents and new “smalls” like the Social Democrats or Renua making up the difference. But that heady cocktail is unattractive to the electorate. It just sounds unreliable, incoherent and risky.

Renua is unproven and, to date, have failed to make an impression. Apart from its leader, Lucinda Creighton, the party is untested. The policy platform lacks definition and credibility. Everyone knows Renua is a creature of disaffection linked solely to opposing the legislation protecting women’s lives in pregnancy.

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar is right to rule them out as potential partners in Government; they would be inherently an awkward squad prone to hissy fits.

The Independent Alliance, herded together strategically by Shane Ross, is a very loose coalition with zero capacity for discipline or coherence. Any government relying on them would be a leaky boat.

Liz O'Donnell Irish General Election

A few solid” establishment” independents look safer. The formula worked in the FF/PD days. The late Seamus Brennan as Government Whip managed to keep them happy by giving them whatever they wanted in their constituencies. It’s not great governance or particularly principled but needs must. Speaking of principle, it was ill-judged of FG not to rule out Michael Lowry. Long story short, he has too much baggage.

The battle for the biggest Opposition party post-election is nearly as interesting. After the carnage of the 2011 election, Fianna Fail can only do better. My hunch is more positive than the pollsters; from an abysmal base of 21 seats, none of which is female or in Dublin, things can only improve.

After years lying low licking their wounds the party is in recovery. For so long any FF head above the parapet was shot down in disgrace. But gradually, as indicated in the local elections, the old tribe was regrouping at local level. It’s a cultural tribe, more a blood group than a political ideology. Allegiance to the party is recoverable absolutely.

In that sense, Fianna Fail is like its main rival on the Opposition side of the house: populist, nationalist, pragmatic and with a tarnished legacy; both can command visceral loyalty. The big scrap in this election will be between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. The former is in recovery from the ruins of calamitous government; the latter on the rise but not yet trusted enough to govern. In historical terms that contest is more interesting.

Liz O’Donnell is a former Progressive Democrats politician, who represented Dublin South as a TD from 1992 to 2007.

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