ONE OF THE most fascinating aspects of the forthcoming general election is the genuine uncertainty about who will be in government after the people have their say.
Opinion polls show the current coalition cannot muster enough Dáil seats (80 at least) to be re-elected. Those in government confidentially predict that once the election is called, voters’ minds will focus on who they want to govern them and Fine Gael and Labour stand to benefit.
But that’s far from certain with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin snapping at the heels of Fine Gael and Labour. Both parties are promising a fairer recovery for all citizens and believe this government has become deeply unpopular with little chance of being re-elected.
Furthermore, the emergence of a number of new parties, like Renua and the SocDems, and a strong core of independents, some under the Independent Alliance banner, means the 32nd Dáil could be very fragmented.
The possibility of a second election this year cannot be ruled out. There’s also the possibility that the polls are completely wrong, just as they were in the UK general election last May.
But having looked at the polls, the bookies’ odds and consulted our own experts (stop sniggering) we’ve come up with a list of the most likely next governments.
1. Fine Gael, Labour and independents/Renua/Social Democrats
This is the most likely outcome from the next election with polls indicating that Fine Gael and Labour will not have enough seats to form a majority. In that case they may look to consult with others.
Renua has positioned itself as potential watchdog for the current administration and if it has four or five seats it could be in a reasonably strong bargaining position. But if Fine Gael and Labour opt for independents they’ll have to choose between negotiating individual deals with the likes of Michael Lowry and Mattie McGrath or else sit down with Shane Ross and his merry band in the Independent Alliance.
- McGrath vs. McGrath: These lads had a lively (and hilarious) row in our office
The Social Democrats look like unlikely partners for this government given they are targeting disaffected Labour voters, but would the ambitious trio of Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall refuse an opportunity to be in cabinet?
2. Fine Gael and Labour
This is the one Enda Kenny and Joan Burton want the most but the polls currently show that they won’t get it. While Fine Gael’s support has increased significantly in recent months, Labour has not moved at the same pace. It could reasonably be argued that this might change once an election is called and voters focus on who they want to govern them. At least that’s what the two parties are hoping for.
The historic 2011 election result gave the two parties a bulletproof majority but they both stand to lose seats this time around. The key to achieving this result will be both parties holding onto most of the seats they won in 2011.
Fine Gael will need to be winning over 60 seats (it currently has 67) and Labour will need to be taking between 15 and 20 (it currently has 33) in order to be re-elected on their own.
3. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil
On current poll numbers, this is mathematically the most solid coalition option after the next election if, for example, Fine Gael returns around 55 TDs and Fianna Fáil has around 30. Others point to policy similarities. For example, both parties want to reduce the USC burden on low and middle income workers.
But the biggest barriers are that both party leaders have effectively ruled it out and there are the obvious historic Civil War differences. Micheál Martin has been at pains to say that Fine Gael is “too right-wing” and portrays himself as an alternative taoiseach to Kenny. So, could Micheál really be Enda’s tánaiste?
Meanwhile, Kenny has consistently said he only contemplates government with Labour. Ordinary members might also find this difficult because the parties have historically been at loggerheads. But Irish political history has shown that it’s ultimately a game of numbers and that personality or ideological differences can be overcome.
4. Fine Gael minority
This government becomes likely if Fine Gael has a good election and ends up, in some constituencies, squeezing out Labour TDs. If Labour is obliterated across the country and returns only a handful of deputies it might well decide it would be better to lick its wounds in opposition.
In that case, Fine Gael, with somewhere in the region of 65 or 70 seats, might seek to pursue a ‘Tallaght Strategy’ and see if Fianna Fáil, in opposition will offer some level of support on important economic matters in the national interest. Willie O’Dea raised this possibility in a recent interview with TheJournal.ie:
5. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, or vice versa
The Fianna Fáil leadership is consistently ruling this out, but a mischievous Sinn Féin, and particularly Gerry Adams, has left the door open to going into government with Micheál Martin’s party if it signs up to the Right2Change principles.
The biggest barriers to this are the views of ordinary members, who will ultimately have to vote on any programme for government. There’s also the consistent criticism from Micheál Martin who recently compared Sinn Féin to the mafia. Sinn Féin has also said it will not go into government unless it is the largest party.
BUT, they are both left-leaning republican parties and, on current polls, mathematically represent the most viable alternative to the current government if they decide to put aside their differences in the national interest.
6. Fianna Fáil, Labour and others
This becomes possible if Fianna Fáil has an excellent election and knocks out Fine Gael in a number of constituencies to become the largest party in the State. It would also need to be recovering significantly in large parts of Dublin and taking seats that polls currently indicate the party won’t.
If Fianna Fáil ends up as the largest party in the Dáil then Martin would justifiably believe he has a mandate to form a government. He could look to Labour and other parties like the Social Democrats, maybe even the Greens and some independents to give him the necessary majority in the Dáil.
7. Fine Gael majority
With more candidates than any other party, Fine Gael is the only party that could achieve an overall majority, but it is highly unlikely unless it has an outstanding election. To do this it would need to squeeze out Labour in certain constituencies and also hold onto all of the Fianna Fáil vote it ‘borrowed’ in 2011.
Even if this were to happen it would only be a minor majority of three or four seats which could become unstable very quickly as we’ve seen in this Dáil.
8. Sinn Féin and others
Sinn Féin would want to have an amazing election to be in the position of largest party in the State but if this happened then it would rightly claim that it has a mandate to form a government.
With Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil snubbing the party right now then it may turn to some likeminded independents and other left-leaning parties like the Anti-Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit grouping. A depleted Labour might even decide that it’s in its interests to remain in government. But the electoral strength of the other parties makes this unlikely.
McGrath vs. McGrath: These lads had a lively (and hilarious) row in our office