06 October 2005

New player enters Republic's jockeying game

Newshound

(Brian Feeney, Irish News)

Weapons decommissioning and the end of all IRA activity have certainly caused a right old stir.

Not here, where the reaction has been all too predictable with the DUP running round like headless chickens isolated from the real world in their own wee hen run.

No, the IRA going out of business caused a lot of fluttering in another chicken coop. All last week southern politicians were falling over themselves to predict what the outcome of the next election in the Republic will be.

Sinn Féin's Dublin 'Make Partition History' rally certainly put the wind up some Fianna Fail people.

Seamus Brennan, bearer of the peculiar title of minister for social affairs, was even moved to remind FF members that the party should "not feel guilty" about saying it stands for a united Ireland.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of the policy from the self-proclaimed 'republican party'.

He added that FF has "hidden or played down this aspiration because the taoiseach wanted to make progress in the north". Hmm. Does that mean they kept the policy secret from the DUP?

Maybe he thinks the DUP didn't know? Or worse, did FF pretend it didn't have that policy any more?

Brennan then went and gave away the real motive for his speech by pointing out that it was also a 'message to Sinn Féin'.

Brennan of course was taking his cue from the taoiseach who told the party faithful in Cavan that unity was "the basis of Fianna Fail's being and our guiding star".

You don't suppose this would have something to do with the recent polls which show first, that the Republic's electorate is just beginning to edge towards preferring a change of government and secondly, that SF's support is steady around eight to10 per cent, more than twice as much as Fianna Fail's coalition partner, the PDs? Just a coincidence?

Several commentators and election pundits believe that with decommissioning and the end of IRA activity SF would be likely to double its Dail representation in the next general election.

That poses the central question, would FF then go into coalition with SF to stave off Fine Gael and Labour?

No, said Bertie, because SF's economic policy was incompatible with Fianna Fail's and besides, it was ambivalent about the EU which is stupid because of the vast sums of cash Ireland receives from Brussels. A coalition couldn't last five days he said, let alone the five-year life of a government.

Take all that with a large pinch of salt. As always Bertie spoke very carefully, though he seems not to. He knows very well that Sinn Féin's economic policy in 2007 will be very different from what people say it is now. In fact Dessie Ellis of Sinn Féin told RTE last week that SF is in the process of "developing" its policy. Watch them steal FF's clothes.

Secondly, while SF opposed the Nice treaty and rejects the doomed Euro constitution, along, it may be said with the voters of France, Denmark and Britain, they do not oppose the existence of the EU or Ireland's membership.

Notice also that Bertie said nothing about accepting support from Sinn Féin in a minority government without entering a formal coalition. There is also a range of other permutations involving the Independents. All of which really means you're looking at the opening gambits of all the Republic's parties in the jockeying before the next general elections and included as a player on the national stage for the first time since 1922 is Sinn Féin.

It has to be so because if, as predicted, SF win nine or 10 seats, that number of TDs can't be ignored in a Dail of 166. When you need 83 votes to be taoiseach any 10 will make a massive difference.

The Dail assembled after the summer break last Wednesday and the race is on.

Fianna Fail faces difficult choices. Do they try to out-republican Sinn Féin?

An impossible task and a foolish policy.

Do they try to repudiate the awful PDs and blame them for all the uncaring failures of the government in health and education?

Or do they try to make friends with SF because they know they won't be able to form a government on their own?

If all that doesn't give the DUP food for thought, nothing will.

October 6, 2005
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This article appeared first in the October 5, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

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