MICHAEL WOLSEY: The birth of Fine Fáil … or is it Fianna Gael?
The coronavirus crisis has overshadowed the most important political development this country has witnessed in many a year.
The agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has been labelled a game-changer but it has the potential to do more than that cliché suggests, to change not just the course of Ireland’s political game but the code under which it is played.
We’ve been playing political hurling for most of a century, now we’re switching to soccer.
The rules of political hurling were set by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Their rivalry shaped our politics from the earliest days of the State.
There was always a touch of phoney war about their confrontations, since they were in broad agreement on most matters. But now the pretence has been abandoned. They are not yet friends but I don’t see how they can ever go back to being foes. Nobody would believe them.
If FG and FF do not manage to put together a government, we will, sooner or later, be heading for a general election which they would have to fight it on the basis of being willing to work together. Like it or not, this platform they have agreed would become their manifesto.
In Irish politics anything can happen and, as Shakespeare observed, the course of true love never does run smooth. There will be opposition to the pact in both parties, upheavals and resignations, no doubt. But for FG and FF the course has now been set and, whatever the twists and turns, it can only lead in one direction. Soon or later we must see the emergence of Fine Fáil … or will it be Fianna Gael?
When we played political hurling, the other parties knew their roles. They were either, like the small parties of the Left, permanent hurlers on the ditch, always shouting ‘foul’ at whoever was on the pitch. Or, like Labour and the Greens, they could tog out from time to time and take their chances with one of the big teams.
The rules of political soccer are not so clear. If FG and FF go into government together they will hand the opposition to Sinn Féin and, since we are facing a serious recession, that party would be a racing certainty to top the polls at the next election. It might then succeed in putting together the cherished coalition of the Left and so we might see a realignment of Irish politics on the Left-Right lines normal in most European countries. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil might find new strength as a party of the Centre-Right or they might fade into oblivion.
But that’s a lot of ‘mights’ and I am jumping too far ahead. We are playing a new game and nobody knows how it will end. One thing is sure, and it resonates from last February’s general election: a change is going to come.