And so we approach what looks like the next step in Fianna Fail’s return to its place as the dominant party in Irish politics. It could take a mere few months, or possible two or three years, but let’s be under no illusion. Fianna Fáil intend to use the bloodied but still breathing Fine Gael as a human shield to get them to another election as fast as is politically decent. They’ll play the national interest and stability card for a while, just waiting for FG to suggest something that FF can be suitably morally indignant about, and then it’s off to face the people and the discarding of the then useless cadaver of FG.
Normal business is restored: FF the largest party and in coalition with one or two small but rational parties and FG back to their role as the perennial losers of Irish politics, the posh rich kid who always gets his comeuppance from the scrappy kid from the wrong side of town in countless movies.
Someone once said to me that the problem with Fine Gael is that they’re that lethal mixture of being both arrogant and stupid. You can survive by being arrogant but clever, or by being dim but likeable, but FG manage to be neither. They seem to be the party who is always surprised to lose elections because nobody, from their tailor to their housekeeper to their stablehand ever admits to voting Fianna Fáil.
Once again, they’re about to fall in the trap. They’ll finally get Enda back in with FF collaboration and then suddenly they’ll see themselves, once again, as The Government, and try to carry on as if nothing has changed, right up to the moment they look on gob-dawed as Michael Martin forms the next stable secure government.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The key to FG’s survival is not to neuter FF’s power but to enhance it, and do so publicly. Enda should announce a weekly legislative cooperation meeting where he will publicly work with FF on which legislation goes through the house, and what it looks like. His team should be pulling out every Fianna Fáil policy document and private members bill from the last five years and pushing what can be used, publicly identifying them as Fianna Fail’s good ideas. He should be consulting Fianna Fáil publicly on state appointments and very publicly appointing Fianna Fáil nominees. In short, the objective of Fine Gael should be to destroy the notion that Fianna Fáil are the opposition standing up to the government, and making sure that it is clear to all that Fianna Fáil are part of the governing majority and share in its decisions.
Are Fine Gael smart enough to pull it off? They’ll be helped by the fact that Sinn Fein will certainly want to push that line too. But it will involve FG showing humility, with the government basically refusing to give FF any ammunition to bring down the government.
That’s the real challenge, because humble is not something FG does well.