Historic third term looms for Irish PM
Filed Under: Politics | Posted: 06/01/2007 at 2:19PM
Comments | Region: Ireland
Let the horse trading begin. The electorate in the Republic of Ireland have sent a message of support to the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in a manner few had envisaged. Those of you who read my pre-election article will be aware that this ground reporter called it just as it turned out. But enough about me, in what turned out to be a pretty clear cut endorsement of his premiership over the past ten years, the PM’s Fianna Fail party received 41% of the popular vote which translated into 78 seats in the yet to be convened 30th Dail (Parliament).
The aforementioned horse trading will be initiated as Ahern fell short of an overall majority and will now have to turn to either the Greens, Labour, or an amalgam of his previous partners the Progressive Democrats along with the support of some independent or non-party deputies, in order to form a government. The main opposition party Fine Gael, led by Enda Kenny, gained almost twenty seats and finished the day on 51, still twenty-seven seats behind Fianna Fail but in some way re-energised and indeed buoyed considering the disastrous showing of five years ago. Kenny’s hopes of forming an alternative coalition were dashed when his chosen partner for government Labour, were returned with only 20 seats, one less than the last election. Indeed, all the smaller parties suffered losses as the voters made this election a straightforward choice between perspective leaders with Ahern winning the day handsomely over the inexperienced Kenny.
The next government and its constituent parts are far from being decided however. Labour’s pre-election mantra that their mission was to remove Fianna Fail from government and that a coalition with Bertie Ahern was a non-runner may turn out to be mere rhetoric when the prospect of another five years in opposition looms large on the horizon, as invariably it does. But will Ahern turn to them? The fact is he does not need them, although they would provide him with a towering majority in parliament, they would also demand at least five seats in cabinet. Add this to the number of disaffected Fianna Fail backbenchers who would be left kicking their heels rather than taking up ministerial posts all because the lefties in Labour had to be appeased and we may well see Ahern look elsewhere.
An alliance with the Progressive Democrats, decimated in the election to a meagre two seats, is impossible as the numbers don’t add up. Bring in another four Independents and suddenly we have a majority albeit a slender one. Ahern may almost prefer this option as cabinet seats would remain the preserve of Fianna Fail with the health portfolio and possibly a junior ministerial role going to his coalition partners. The final option of a coalition with the Green party may still come to fruition yet considering their desire for a carbon tax, less road building and the banning of corporate donations to political parties are prerequisites to any alliance with Fianna Fail, the ideological gap between the two may be too great.
Calling this one, I feel, is a little easier than the election result itself. Ahern is above all else a pragmatist. He will want a stable government that will run its five year course without too many hitches, he will desire a controllable government without disruptive or dissenting voices, and finally he would only feel at ease with ideologically empathetic cohorts. This is why an alliance with Labour looks increasingly less likely. The Progressive Democrats and Independents need another election like the proverbial hole in the head. Ahern holds all the aces and expect him to lay them down slowly but assuredly and choose a union that has served him well in the past. I have little doubt that the next government will be comprised of 78 Fianna Fail deputies, 2 Progressive Democrats and 4 if not 5 Independents.
Submitted by Carl Power (Dublin)