Not all my readers have the wherewithal to buy The Sunday Times or to pay its internet subscription; others baulk at putting money into Rupert Murdoch’s pocket.
So for their benefit here is an interesting article in today’s Irish edition of the ST which examines the game of under-the-table footsie being played by Sinn Fein and Fine Gael re becoming coalition partners after the next general election in the South.
A coalition of SF and FG makes sense for both. SF’s natural partners, Fianna Fail have, under Micheal Martin, realised that the consequences could be fatal if they did partner with SF, even sans Gerry Adams. Sinn Fein would set out to infiltrate and subvert FF and believe me, they have the skills and people to do that.
The now-almost non-existent SDLP sets a worrying precedent for any party contemplating a partnership with with the Shinners. Their political clothes were stolen almost entirely by SF; once the dominant Nationalist voice in the North, the SDLP is now a pale shadow of its former self, a fate FF risks.
So as long as Martin rules the roost there will not be a FF-SF coalition.
Fine Gael, on the other hand, are not in competition with Sinn Fein in the way Fianna Fail is, no reason to fear SF in the way Micheal Martin does. Without Gerry Adams at the helm, the smell of rotten cabbage has also faded; Mary Lou has none of the same baggage and the Dundrum-born convent school grad could almost pass for a Fine Gaeler herself.
Sinn Fein has also shown itself to be remarkably flexible over ideological matters, one day left of centre, another in the center or on the right. Accomodating themselves with Fine Gael’s brand of conservatism may not be the obstacle many believe it should be.
The other question is for how long the current ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail can last. The two are essentially rivals to be the dominant party in a coalition, not partners. It always looked an uncomfortable and perforce temporary arrangement which carried the risk of blurring important distinctions between the parties.
Anyway here is the Sunday Times on the latest tea leaves swirling at the bottom of the saucer:
WHY SINN FEIN IS LOVE-BOMBING LEO;
As the party attacks Fianna Fail rather than Fine Gael, is coalition possible, ask Justine McCarthy and Stephen O’Brien
She has called him smarmy. He said she reminded him of the French right-winger Marine Le Pen. Yet a perceptible warmth has crept into Dail exchanges between Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald since they became leaders of their respective parties.
The taoiseach hailed McDonald’s elevation during her first Dail appearance as Sinn Fein leader in February. “I know what it feels like to be elected to the leadership of a party one has worked in for decades,” he said. “Becoming president of her party must be a very proud moment for her, her family and supporters.”
McDonald thanked him and later offered to visit Varadkar’s Dublin West constituency to campaign with him for the abortion referendum. Watching from the stalls, some in Fianna Fail think the love-in is designed to sideline them from involvement in forming the next government.
Sinn Fein’s apparent courting of Fine Gael gathered pace when Eoin Ó Broin, its housing spokesman, published a document last weekend criticising the record of Fianna Fail, the main opposition party, rather than the policies of the Fine Gael-led government. On Wednesday, Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Fein’s health spokeswoman, challenged Stephen Donnelly, her Fianna Fail opposite number, to say how he would fix the health service and blamed his party’s support for the government for facilitating bad policy.
The newfound amity between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein in their approach to Brexit and the Stormont talks has not gone unnoticed across the Irish Sea either. On Monday, David Davis, Britain’s Brexit minister, claimed Sinn Fein was exerting a “strong influence” on Varadkar’s approach to negotiations.
The nudge-nudge and wink-wink came to a head on Wednesday when Jim Daly, a junior health minister, intimated in an interview with Hot Press magazine that the once unthinkable scenario of a Fine Gael-Sinn Fein coalition could no longer be ruled out.
Later, Varadkar’s spokesman told journalists that Daly did not speak for the government. Coalition with Sinn Fein was “not a consideration anybody in government is working towards”, he said, adding that a future confidence and supply agreement with McDonald’s party was “not a consideration”.
They want to increase VAT, which would drive up the cost of living. They don’t want to give any tax breaks to middle-income people. They’re eurosceptic or eurocritical at a time when we need allies around Europe, and [have] a nationalistic approach when I think we should be internationalistic.”
While his comments elicited a rebuke from McDonald for what she called the taoiseach’s “knee-jerk” reaction and “bizarre outburst”, it was remarkable that he had not alluded to Sinn Fein’s historic ties with the IRA. For previous Fine Gael leaders, Sinn Fein’s past had been a cultural and ideological barrier to any potential partnership, whereas Varadkar concentrated on policy differences – a matter that proved surmountable in negotiating the 2016 confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fail.
There has been a detectable appetite for cabinet seats in Sinn Fein since delegates voted at its ard fheis last November to dispense with the party’s long-held refusal to enter into a coalition government in Dublin. McDonald has said: “There’s a sense among our activists that we can’t indefinitely ask the people who vote for us and put their faith in us to wait, hold on, next time, next time.”
In contrast, Fianna Fail delegates voted overwhelmingly at their ard fheis in October to rule out coalition with Sinn Fein. Micheál Martin, the Fianna Fail leader, said he voted for the motion, calling Sinn Fein “undemocratic”. He has been critical of Sinn Fein’s record in relation to the IRA.
It appears that Sinn Fein’s new disposition towards Fine Gael will continue when the Dail returns from its two-week “Easter holidays” on Tuesday afternoon.
Asked about recent hints that Sinn Fein planned to table a motion of no confidence in housing minister Eoghan Murphy, a senior party source said: “The issue for us is that, if you bring this forward before the [abortion] referendum, you could end up toppling the government before it is held, depending on what Fianna Fail do, of course.
“Micheál Martin has said he is going to support them to the next budget but we are very mindful that we have the repeal referendum coming up. It is an issue that we will clarify [in the coming weeks]”.