Opinion: the parties need to end this excruciatingly long episode of political Love Island and realise electoral success has both benefits and burdens
There are winners and losers in any election, although it isn't always obvious how these two cohorts should be calculated. For example, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party secured six TDs each and 2.9% and 4.4% respectively of the first preference votes in February's election.Yet the general consensus is that the former belongs to the winner camp, while the latter lost the election. Numbers can be deceiving.
But there is no dispute regarding the outstanding winner of this election: Sinn Féin. Compared to the previous election in 2016, the party's share of the went went up 10.7% to 24.5%, and they returned 37 TDs (up from 23 in 2016). The margin of Sinn Féin’s victory took everyone by surprise, including Sinn Féin. This election will go down in history as the "Sinn Féin election".
On the question of other winners and losers, there is some ambiguity regarding the performance of the traditional big-hitters in Irish politics. Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were disappointed by the results as they expected to do better. Nevertheless, their numbers stand up to scrutiny when compared to Sinn Féin. Although they both did marginally worse in percentage terms (22.2% and 20.9% respectively), they returned roughly the same number of TDs (38 and 35 respectively).
From RTÉ 1's Prime Time, political seers Gary Murphy from DCU and Theresa Reidy from UCC sum up who can work with who and how long will it take
There are now three major political parties in the Irish political landscape. These parties are roughly of equal numerical importance, which makes a coalition of some sort an inevitable necessity. The possible permutations of the next government are not infinite, but we are not any closer to discerning the identity of the next government three weeks after the election.
In an effort to move things along, let's consider the following radical (but oddly sensible) suggestion: Sinn Féin, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael should form a German-style Grand, Grand coalition, with the Green Party's Eamon Ryan as Taoiseach. There is logic to the madness of this solution. Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil must consider working together because this Grand, Grand Coalition would represent 66% of the voters, which is the closest we are likely to get to the mystical will of the people, whatever that means, as expressed on February 8th.
But it is not just an issue of numbers, it is also a question of ethics. For Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to refuse to work with Sinn Féin, or for Sinn Féin to refuse to enter into this Grand, Grand Coalition with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, would indicate an unforgivable lack of political responsibility.
From RTÉ Radio 1's This Week, Sharon Lynch finds out if grassroots members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would support a coalition
In a liberal democracy, the general wisdom is that the winners have the right to form the next government. In Ireland, the winners have legitimate expectations to nominate the next Taoiseach, since winners are rewarded with the right to exercise political power. But today, we have three parties that can make a legitimate claim to be on the winners’ podium. As there is very little between them in terms of numbers, this is one of those strange situations where it takes more than two to tango.
The premise behind the idea of a Grand, Grand Coalition is that electoral success generates both benefits and burdens for the winning parties, something that Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil conveniently ignore. There is more to the winning an election than to claim one’s right to be in power. As all aficionados of Marvel Comics know by now, Spiderman teaches us that with great power comes great responsibility. In fiction as in politics, superheroes and mortals alike must accept that rights and duties are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. At the moment, there is too much talk about the right to rule, and not enough about the duties and responsibilities that come with winning an election.
In the weeks prior to the election, the political campaigns of many parties were characterised by a strong sense of urgency. Voters were told that change was required to solve many pressing social issues, from the housing crisis to the lack of bed in hospitals, from the reform of the pension system to the spiralling costs of education.
From RTÉ News, the Your Politics podcast looks at the talks about talks
But the urgency has mysteriously evaporated since the results of the election were announced three weeks ago. This is simply unacceptable. To the existing list of urgent issues, we can now also add the threat of flooding and an almost inevitable pandemic, but the main political parties are still taking their time choosing an adequate partner to take to the Dáil Éireann ball. This is deplorable and irresponsible.
In what is turning into an excruciatingly long episode of political Love Island, progress on the government-formation front is painfully slow. The three main parties are taking their time to decide who they want to speak to, when to speak to whom, and what to include in the conversation. These strategic time-wasting antics are bordering on being insulting and disrespectful to the Irish people.
Of course, prudence is understandable before entering into any intimate relationship, and that includes politics. But Sinn Féin, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael need to be reminded that, as the winners of the 2020 general election they also have a responsibility to the Irish people to form the next government, and quickly. It may just be that a Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil Grand, Grand Coalition could be the solution to our woes.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ