Irish coalition lays aside historic differences to fight coronavirus and keep Sinn Fein out of power

Voters in February demanded change – but the proposed Fine Gael-Fianna Fail partnership is not quite what they ordered, writes Ben Kelly

Saturday 18 April 2020 17:47
Lorry showing images of Fina Gael leader and current Irish Taoiseach
Lorry showing images of Fina Gael leader and current Irish Taoiseach

It’s been almost 10 weeks since Ireland’s general election threw up one of the most surprising results in the country’s history. Voters who were angry about health and housing, and hungry for change, propelled the left-wing Sinn Fein into the lead for the first time ever, but in seat terms, it was a near three-way tie with the traditional “big two” Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. In the truly extraordinary period of time since that vote (to quote the much-quoted W B Yeats) all has changed utterly.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have now come together and produced a framework for coalition, which puts aside 100 years of political rivalry in pursuit of national stability. The two parties are descended from the opposing sides in Ireland’s civil war, and while they have ruled the country back and forth for a century, they have never done so together. In these desperate times, there are three reasons why the parties have now found the impetus to work together.

Firstly, both parties have been greatly depleted. National tribes as much as political institutions, there was a time in the mid-1980s when Fine Gael and Fianna Fail together took almost 85 per cent of the vote in Ireland. But the 2008 crash and a decade of austerity have left voters disillusioned with them both, and younger voters are less loyal to traditional voting patterns. At this recent election, the two parties took just 43 per cent combined. For either to get anywhere near power, they need the help of each other – and then some.

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