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Is this the only possible government after the next election?

Analysis: On current polls and seat projections the current government will not be re-elected. So what’s the alternative?

FFFG Could Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny work it out after the next election? Source: Rolling News.ie

GOVERNMENT SPINNERS TALK a lot about ‘Tina’.

They like Tina. Tina gives them comfort. Tina stands for ‘There Is No Alternative’. As in, there is no credible choice for voters other than the current coalition of Fine Gael and Labour.

It is a theory built primarily on the idea that the economy is growing, unemployment is falling and a sense of optimism is returning to the country.

Fine Gael and Labour believe they have cleaned up their predecessor’s mess. In their eyes, to re-elect Fianna Fáil would be a return to the bad old days, to elect Sinn Féin would endanger the country’s recovery with “fantasy economics”.

The trouble is that voters aren’t buying the Tina theory. Opinion polls tell us this government can’t and won’t be re-elected without a significant shift of support in their direction.

And this isn’t happening.

The coalition made much of the need to turn around its polls ratings this year in advance of the general election. But according to the most recent B&A poll in the Sunday Times, Fine Gael is on 27% while Labour is on 6%. In March, the same poll had Fine Gael on 27% and Labour on 9%.

This is only one poll – but others show either stagnation or a statistically insignificant rise or a drop in support for the two parties since the turn of the year. Neither Fine Gael nor Labour are close to the level of support necessary to return enough TDs to form a government.

Talk then has inevitably turned to whether the two parties could do a deal with some like-minded independents or the smaller parties. But the trouble is that quite a few of these are needed to make the magic number.

On current projections, Fine Gael is only likely to return around 50 seats while Labour will struggle to reach double digits. This leaves the current coalition well short of the 80 Dáil seats needed to form a government.

4/5/2011. 1916 Commemorations Ceremonies Source: RollingNews.ie

Politics in this country is a numbers game. For all the soundbites of parties ruling out working with each other – and there’s been a lot of that – the reality is that after the election seat numbers will speak the loudest.

The theory that certain parties or personalities could never do a deal has been consistently undermined throughout Irish political history. Just look at Des O’Malley entering coalition with Charlie Haughey in 1989 or Dick Spring doing a deal with Albert Reynolds in 1992.

Everything will be on the table in the post-election world and that includes the increasingly distinct possibility of a historic Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition.

Adrian Kavanagh’s latest seat analysis, based on the most recent B&A poll, shows it is the only mathematical possibility that does not involve a sizeable number of independents and smaller parties.

This so-called grand coalition has been in the ether ever since Fianna Fáil was decimated in 2011. Some party elders speak openly about it including Frank Flannery (Fine Gael) and Mary O’Rourke (Fianna Fáil). But many others on both sides retch at the very idea of these two Civil War foes joining forces.

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea has articulated a view that both parties can identify with. A coalition of FG and FF would only serve to enhance Sinn Féin’s electoral prospects in the future – a prospect both parties fear perhaps more than anything else.

But bookies see it differently. Paddy Power have had a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition as their favourite for well over a year. New odds published today have put the chances of an FG/FF link-up at 13/8, out from 5/4, but still the favourite. 

Odds on a Fine Gael minority government have been shortened from 16/1 to 8/1, perhaps off the back of yesterday’s Sunday Independent story which claimed some senior Fianna Fáil figures are open to the possibility of a “supply and confidence” deal.

This would involve Fianna Fáil supporting Fine Gael on a vote-by-vote basis in return for delivery on some of its own key manifesto commitments. This does not offer the same sort of stability as a coalition which is perhaps why the odds on two general elections taking place next year are now as short as 5/1.

The UK election showed us that pollsters can get it dreadfully wrong. But the bookies rarely do.

Read: The next general election? You should trust the bookies a lot more than the opinion polls…

Read: Ireland’s next Government, ranked from most to least likely

Read: Fine Gael’s next leader, from most to least likely

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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