So there was an election some 40 odd days ago and we still don’t have a Government. In fairness there have been a lot of events since then (St Patrick’s Day, Easter and the commemoration of the 1916 Rising) but still it is a break with the norm in Irish politics. We usually have a Taoiseach chosen when the Dáil returns whereas on this occasion they have adjourned twice to allow more time for negotiations after a number of unsuccessful candidacies.
As far as I can see it there are four possibilities:
- A Fine Gael minority Government possibly supported by Independents and with the cooperation (or abstention) of Fianna Fáil,
- A Fianna Fáil minority Government supported by Independents and with the cooperation of Fine Gael,
- A grand coalition of both parties
- Another election.
These are the only options because pretty much every other party and T.D has ruled themselves out of forming a Government. So Fine Gael have been meeting with Independents, have met with Fianna Fáil, offered them a grand coalition and contested two elections for Taoiseach. Fianna Fáil rejected the grand coalition idea and seem to favour a situation whereby their abstention would allow Fine Gael and a few others (most likely Independents) to pass essential legislation.
So far so good right? The Irish people voted and their chosen representatives are negotiating and compromising to provide a Government that will reflect their collective will. If anybody deserves criticism for a delay here surely it is the people who have refused to take part in any Government right? Alternatively you could blame the Irish people for electing an indecisive Dáil or you could blame our excessively fair electoral system. I prefer to accept the imperfections of democracy as reality and am content to wait a while.
But what have we here? Sinn Féin are growing impatient with talks and want to get on with the job they were elected to do. Without digressing I can only briefly point out that Sinn Féin are in no position to complain about elongated talks given that, in my opinion, the deliberately protracted the negotiation process in Northern Ireland for almost a decade. The more relevant point here is that they are amongst the deputies who are shirking their responsibilities to the electorate. They were elected to the Dáil and their first job is to chose a Government. They have removed themselves from that process at a time of crisis and they have done so for political gain.
They are trying to give the appearance that they have some common sense bill that will solve the housing and homelessness crises and all that they need is for the Dáil to pass it. They want to give the impression that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are squabbling over the spoils of office while the ever noble Sinn Féin are concerned with the average citizens and their welfare. They have long been an advocate of the adoption of the D’Hondt system of allocating ministries. This is how the Stormont Assembly allocates ministries between parties. This recent gesture might be construed as being in the same vein. One might ask “Why don’t they all just govern together?”
So, how does it work for them “up there”? Well you could argue that it works out quite badly for the voters, who get stagnancy and intransigence. Nothing ever changes. There was a massive worldwide recession in 2008 that sent political shockwaves around the world. It produced extreme left wing parties and extreme right wing parties. Historically dominant parties were decimated across Europe and even the hegemonic two party system in the United States is teetering. Northern Ireland, however, is an exception. There are incremental changes only but largely it stays the same. Ian Paisley held North Antrim for 40 years as an M.P and passed it on to his son (also Ian Paisley). So there is very little change for voters and the political discourse varies from childish two and fro that helps nobody to borderline sectarianism that endangers everybody.
This is in contrast to the situation the politicians find themselves in. Political deadlock is quite nice if you are an employed politician. You can have a nice, long career without fear of new ideas coming along and kicking you and your old ideas out of office. You can show up, blame somebody else and go home. This is what Sinn Féin have in the North and this is what they would like “down here”. They don’t ever want to govern. If they did that they would run the risk of being held to account for something. That wouldn’t do.
And this pretty much explains what they are up to now. They like the current situation as they can complain and blame Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Homelessness and Housing crises are manna from heaven to Sinn Féin at the moment. They get to complain about them and thereby look like they care about the underprivileged (apologies for sounding cynical here but I can’t help it). The last thing they want is for somebody to solve any of those problems, that’s why they aren’t going into government. If they went into government they could possibly get some concessions or shape a policy on something important like that. They are never going to do that. They could get blamed for the inevitably imperfect situation that we find ourselves at the next election. They might also erode their base if they are successful and there are no social ills left to exploit.
If you think this is selling out their principals then you’re a little late to the party. Their original principals upon their foundation (in 1970, not 1905) were essentially the rejection of the Social Democratic orientation of what became known as Official Sinn Féin in favour of a more radical (but ill-defined and postponed) Socialism and their embrace of terrorist tactics in the pursuit of national unity. They abandoned these two principals a long time ago.
They have only one real goal anymore, besides getting themselves elected while shirking responsibility. They want to rewrite the recent history of Ireland, particularly the troubles in Northern Ireland, and position themselves as a part of the grand arc of Nationalist struggle in Ireland. That is all they really care about now. That and their careers, of course.
P.S: I’m really sorry about the cynicism