2 May 2016
If you are not going to vote on Thursday, then don't complain if outcome is a fudge like we have in Dublin
After weeks of stalemate a new Dail is now set to be formed, but it looks like a ploy to keep Sinn Fein at bay and kick issue of water down the road, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
The Irish general election took place on February 26, but it is only now that a new government seems imminent. The election produced a stalemate.
Out of 158 seats, Fine Gael won 50, Fianna Fail 44, Sinn Fein 23, Labour 7 and the hard-Left (Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit) 6.
The rest were mostly a dolly mixture of independents.
The popular view - much plugged by pundits - was that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail should form a coalition, but there was never any chance of that.
That's not - as many allege - because they still haven't got over the Civil War of 1922-23 over the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
That they got over it quite a while back was symbolised in 2010 when Brian Lenihan, the Minister for Finance, became the first Fianna Failer to be invited to deliver the annual address commemorating Fine Gael's great hero Michael Collins, chairman of the Provisional Government of the Free State, shot dead by anti-Treatyites.
Lenihan told the audience at Beal na mBlath, the location of Collins' ambush, that the "generous and unexpected" invitation had delighted him: if the event could be seen as "a public act of historical reconciliation, at one of Irish history's sacred places, then I will be proud to have played my part".
In fact, "the painful divisions from which emerged the two largest political parties in the State have more or less entirely healed", he said.
The differences between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael today "are no longer defined by the Civil War, nor have they been for many years", and "it would be absurd if they were", for "this period of our history is gradually moving out of living memory".
He added that "we ask and expect those in Northern Ireland to live and work together despite the carnage and grief of a much more recent, and much more protracted, conflict".
To the majority of the Irish public - who know that the Fine Gael/Labour coalition broadly followed similar policies to its Fianna Fail/Green Party predecessor - it seemed blindingly obvious that the two parties should go into government together.
There has been anger and mockery over the long weeks of often fruitless negotiations that seem likely to end with Fianna Fail supporting a minority Fine Gael government propped up by Labour, Greens and a few independents.
But under their present leadership, neither Fianna Fail nor Fine Gael was prepared to run the risk of having Sinn Fein as the official opposition.
It is a brutal and unprincipled opponent that would use the advantages of that position utterly destructively and selfishly.
Fine Gael's Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin have their differences, but they both loathe Gerry Adams and his Stepford TDs.
But reaching an agreement wasn't easy.
The hard-Left and Sinn Fein (which did a complete U-turn to climb on the anti-charges bandwagon) had made the last government's life hell by cynically fomenting street agitation over water charges.
This encouraged Fianna Fail to echo Sinn Fein with a U-turn and an irresponsible manifesto promise to abolish Irish Water and charges.
Fine Gael, which made a frightful political mess of setting up Irish Water, could not contemplate getting rid of it just as it was getting to grips with the glaring inadequacies in water and sewerage infrastructure.
So a fudge is being cobbled together that suspends water charges and keeps Irish Water in existence while the issue is kicked into the long grass of a commission.
As Alan Kelly of Labour (which has done a U-turn in a different direction) put it: "Fianna Fail had the chance to make a stand on mental health services, on renewal of rural Ireland, to end child poverty, or to institute a living wage, yet they have made a stand on an issue that costs people €3 a week.
We can blame the politicians for surrendering to a hard-Left anti-State agenda, but it is the electorate that has been reluctant to accept that services have to be paid for.
As Northern Ireland might remember this Thursday, if you vote for irresponsible populists, you get irresponsible populists.
And if you can't be bothered to vote at all, you deserve whatever you get.
Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.
Ruth Dudley Edwards