MICHAEL WOLSEY: The people have spoken – but translation may take a while
TD after TD stood up in the Dail last week and declared that the people had spoken. Many said the verdict of the electorate was clear.
Absolutely clear, said Brendan Howlin. Totally clear, said Pearse Doherty.
Really? I don’t think so. The people have spoken but, so far as clarity goes, they might have been talking in the language of the ancient Aztecs or Incas. They could be heard but nobody knows what they said.
For the second election in a row, the voters of Ireland have returned a Dáil divided between disparate parties with almost equal voting strengths. In 2016 we returned two front-running parties.
This time we have complicated matters further by adding Sinn Féin to the mix and handing the balance of power to the Greens, a small and divided group of left-wingers, and a bunch of Independents with little in common.
We have elected a Dáil from which it is, to put it mildly, extremely difficult to form a government, and now we are complaining because the rival politicians we elected can’t strike a deal in three weeks.
We, the voters, created the problem. We should have a bit of patience and give our chosen representatives a chance to solve it. Either that, or prepare for another general election.
This belief that the people have spoken clearly is just one of the myths that have grown up since February 8.
Another is that Sinn Féin won the election. I have heard Mary Lou McDonald say just that on several occasions and it is the message behind the meetings her party has been staging around the country.
Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? If I were in her position I would say that too. But it’s not true.
Sinn Féin had a very good election but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – parties with a lot in common – got a combined vote which was almost twice that of SF, with whom they differ considerably.
I don’t think the country will welcome a grand coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and I do think both those parties should be prepared to at least talk with Sinn Féin about government formation. But I can’t see anything unreasonable or undemocratic about the idea that two quite similar parties with a combined first preference vote of just over 43%, and a combined seat total of 73, should seek to form a government together, raher than reach out to a very different party that won just over 24% of the vote and 37 seats.
The people have spoken and a grand coalition seems as reasonable an interpretation of what they asked for as any other.
Another myth is that the country has swung Left. I’m not sure if Sinn Féin, a party that opposes increased carbon tax and wants to abolish property tax, can really be classed as socialist: anti-establishment, certainly, and populist sometimes, but you can’t really wrap the Red Flag round them.
The increased Green vote is also being seen as a swing to the Left but the environmental issues which drive Eamon Ryan and his party are not the exclusive preserve of socialists.
And that leaves those who have always claimed to be socialists: the Labour Party which lost one of its seven seats and got just over 4% of the vote; the Social Democrats who, thanks to Sinn Féin surpluses, went up from two to six seats on less than 3% of the vote and the uneasy coalition of Solidarity and People Before Profit who got 2.6% of the vote and came back with the same meagre total of five seats.
The people have spoken but I don’t think they called for a sharp Left turn. Interpreting what they did say will be a slow business. Giving them what they want may prove impossible. As Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath astutely observed: “It is a lot easier to organise a protest than to organise a government.”