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Ireland's next Government, ranked from most to least likely

It’s a numbers game.

9097579072_f277d40948_z Source: Flickr/Canadian Pacific

THE DÁIL RETURNS on Wednesday with a phantom general election campaign seemingly already underway.

With Vincent Browne running constituency debates for an as yet undeclared election, let’s predict some Government coalitions from an as yet unelected Dáil.

Despite the so far unrealised ambitions of Lucinda Creighton and Shane Ross’s new Independent alliance, the choice facing the electorate will have a similar hue.

In a recent interview, Michael Noonan said his party would be campaigning for a repeat Fine Gael-Labour coalition but shot down any suggestions beyond that.

That’s relatively clear but, as this analysis (from our Political Editor Hugh O’Connell) points out, coalition partnerships can be a fluid business and deals can always be made.

Both main opposition parties are bullish about wanting to be in coalition as the larger member while the surge in support for Independents and smaller parties means they’ll be involved in the shake up.

But how could all this play out? Based purely on current poll numbers and how that would translate into seats, below is some (just for fun) informed speculation on the Government of the 32nd Dáil.

Of course, in politics the situation can change by the day so making bold predictions way in advance means the propensity of having egg on one’s face is quite high. That’s not even to take account of the unpredictability of an election itself.

But regardless…

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

Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil (w/ Ind. support) 

Leveling the play field business events Deals are there to be made. Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

If there’s one thing that would freeze the emotional divide of civil war politics, it’s cold hard numbers. Each of the three largest parties are hovering around 20% in the poll standings. There’s deviation of course but at those levels they’re looking at seats in the mid-thirties. The privacy of the ballot box and electoral machinery probably means larger parties achieve more in an actual election, but it’s a good starting point.

In a shrunken-down Dáil of 158 TDs, 80 is the magic number. It means two of the three parties may well have to team up and tie-in at least 10 from the expanded Independent benches.

Three into two doesn’t go so one party has to lose out, the most likely is Sinn Féin. 

Fianna Fáil could well end up being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Choosing between being a junior to Fine Gael or being partner to Sinn Féin’s first entry into Government in the Republic. The former is more likely. 

It’s not the only option though, a FG/FF coalition is the most likely combination but that order is definitely uncertain.  The Government probably feels 2014 was a low point from which they can only grow, but Micheál Martin will be confident the top job in a FF/FG is up for grabs.

Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin

Britain Northern Ireland IRA Child Abuse Enter Gerry. Source: AP/Press Association Images

If grassroot members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael can’t make the mental leap of joining forces, Sinn Féin may well then enter the fray.

Both parties have strong reasons for staying away from each other. Sinn Féin’s growth in the Republic stems from its opposition to austerity. Teaming up with the party that began that track, and in many ways caused it, would be seen by many of its newest supporters as an early betrayal.

From Fianna Fáil’s point of view, going into Government with Sinn Féin would certainly represent a long-term strategic risk.

Gerry Adams’s arrest, the Maíria Cahill controversy and its subsequent revelations are tangible examples of what are euphemistically termed ‘legacy issues’ in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin’s major asset in carrying on despite these problems are its unity. It’s almost unthinkable that such unity would exist in coalition arrangement and Fianna Fáil would no doubt be worried that further controversies would arise.

The advantages for both parties may therefore be difficult to see, apart of course from actually getting into power. For Fianna Fáil though, it perhaps represents Michael Martin’s best chance of being Taoiseach, even if he doesn’t really want to talk about it.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Fine Gael/Labour (w/ Ind. support)

Labour Party Think Ins Labour frontbenchers like Joan Burton and Alan Kelly will be key if the party hopes to return to Government, Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

This essentially is the re-election of the current Government. That combination secured a record majority in 2011 but resignations and the changing political landscape make a repeat of that resounding success very improbable.

For Labour, being the smaller coalition partner often means losing out in compromises and perhaps means you shoulder more than your share of the blame. But the slide in support for the party appears to have stabilised since Joan Burton took over.

Although both are likely to see their Dáil representation slashed when the next election comes around, they may keep enough seats to ask a some Independents to help them over the line.

Fianna Fáil/Labour (w/ Ind. support)

The Rainbow Coalition in 1994 saw Labour switching allegiances from Fianna Fáil to Fine Gael and staying in Government without an election.

Don’t rule out an opposite switch after the next election if the numbers make sense. 

Sinn Féin/ Independents / Left-wing parties

Right To Water Campaigns Protests Could we see a broad left-wing coalition? Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

A broad coalition of left-wing parties, united by opposition to austerity and water charges, is probably the only way Sinn Féin will lead the next Government.

The prospect, though perhaps relatively unlikely, is getting more feasible as Independents become more aligned. The alliance launched by Shane Ross and Maurice Fitzmaurice could perhaps be the first of a number of groupings that will appear before the next election.

The success of the technical group in contributing to the Dáil and its knock-on electoral benefit has shown the advantages of working together. What’s more, the Socialist vote being split in the Dublin MEP contest cost Paul Murphy a seat, showed the problem with not doing so.

Widening this co-operation into a Government represents a much greater challenge and in the recent by-election we saw Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party butting heads.

But last month’s water charge march in Dublin saw Sinn Féin TDs take to the stage alongside other Socialist politicians. Perhaps it won’t be the last time.

Fine Gael/Sinn Féin

Returning to the previous point of two not being divisible by three, there was one scenario not mentioned. The only people seriously talking about a Fine Gael/Sinn Féin partnership appears to be Fianna Fáil.

For obvious reasons, its advantageous for them to do so. Anything’s possible, but it’s bottom of this list.

First published 11 January, 8.30pm 

Read: Analysis: If Charlie and Des taught us anything… it’s that deals can always be made >

Read: Is Fine Gael facing an election bloodbath? >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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