Friday, May 29, 2009


I received this article as a comment, to a previous article, on going into coalition with Fine Gael. However, I felt it was good enough to post as a separate piece. I must confess that the view put forward here is certainly one I would support. Please note that I have edited the article slightly, so if the original poster wishes to make changes then please let me know.


How should I respond to the previous post on this site - Fine Gael Sinn Fein Coalition Options? That article put forward the case for Sinn Féin and Fine Gael to consider the benefits of going into coalition. Well, I feel the arguments against such a move have already been made when members of the Labour Party argued against election pacts, and such like, with Fine Gael. One of the main thinkers in opposing such a link up was Mick O’Reilly. I personally would say that Mick O’Reilly put together an argument, which I think, should be the basis of any left wing party’s attitude to coalition with Fine Gael. Mick is a trade union official with UNITE and a member of the labour party. He articulates the politics of the 26 county state best in his summary of the history of the Irish state as being a “one policy state” as opposed to a “one party state”.

He points out that since 1932 every government has been FF for 2 or 3 terms followed by FG lab followed by FF getting back in for 2 3 terms etc etc etc.

In looking at the make up of these two types of government he points out they are basically the same. He argues Fianna Fáil is historically a party made up of a coalition of a number of different socio-economic groups, labourers, trades men, farmers, solicitors etc

The internal coalition within Fianna Fail is matched by the Fine Gael/ labour coalition. Namely the middle upper class nature of Fine Gael and the working class/middle class nature of labour.

This is not an exact match but roughly speaking that would be how the support base of the 3 main parties breaks down. The consequence is that the two power blocks draw support from a wide cross section of society and in trying to satisfy the broad coalitions they represent, they only ever adopt centrist policies. The dominance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in these two power blocks means that Irish politics has therefore never been able to escape the civil war divide. These factors have therefore combined and prevented a left right split from forming in the politics of the 26 counties.

Mick O’Reilly argued that the way to break this one policy cycle is for the labour party to simply say no and refuse point blank to go in to government with FG. The idea is that FG will always need labour to get in to government. Therefore if labour say no to FG, then they will eventually stop being viewed as a potential party of government.

In the shot term this may mean a jump in support for FF, but in the long-term we can try to create a post centre right v centre right election choice for the electorate by ruling out FG. Sooner or later FF as always will eventually loose an election. This would give Fine Gael its first opportunity to be a party of government with FF and thus hopefully finally killing of civil war politics and creating the first left right divide in Irish politics. Admittedly the Labour Party will be a opposition party in the Dáil, but finally there will be a clear cut left right choice for the electorate. This situation does not automatically mean labour will gain but such a new scenario has the potential for great change.


In post credit crunch Ireland the roles of FF and FG could be reversed. Though FFs base is mixed, and as a result over the long term more robust and less vulnerable, but the theory’s a good one. It’s as relevant to SINN FÉIN as it is/was to labour. Mick’s theory does not appear to have been adhered to in labour, regretfully due to the short term practicalities of electoral politics I presume.

But if people are genuine about creating an alternative then they have to think long term. For SF there’s a hard question in it. The strategy to be in power both sides of the boarder does certainly create a greater opportunity to implement the all Ireland agenda. But as a small left wing party in a FF or FG led government, would we really get the chance? Or would we be squeezed out like other smaller parties before us.

I joined SF with a Brits out mentality but got educated in wider politics, people campaigns and reading classes etc.

For me the very notion of going into government with Fine Gael is wrong. However, this is not because of my gut feeling, but rather I believe that we can make longer-term gains by not doing so. See for me the question is short term gains or long term gains. I’d say hold out but it's easy to say that when it’s not an option this minute. (addition from original author)However, if the party got a chance to imlement the all ireland agrenda, speed up dismantleing the boarder it would be a very tempting option for me. Just like for greens the possibility of implementing a green agenda was extreamly tempting for them. as small parties we will never do it on our own so we need a coalition. We have an ideal coalition in our head but time is passing and what should we do if we only have one offer. Do people marry foor love or for security? We know what they should do but what do they do, though choice.

I hope the leadership is aiming at long term gains and that they will see the merits of the case put forward by Mick O’Reilly. Or is the notion of gaining any form of political power just too attractive for some to resist?


  1. recognise myself in that.

    only thing i'd change is the second last paragraph. if the party got a change to imlement the all ireland agrenda, speed up dismantleing the boarder it would be a very tempting option for me. just like for greens the possibility of implementing a green agenda was extreamly tempting for them. as small parties we will never do it on our own so we need a coalition. we have an ideal coalition in our head but time is passing and we only have one offer. do people marry foor love or for security. we know what they should do but what do they do. though choice.

    been around the party along time, ledship know as mush as the member ship. if the membership don't see the merrits of an issue then neither do the leadership.

  2. Hi,

    I really enjoyed this article. I found much that I agree strongly with - the need to recast the political mold in the south, and the requirement to strategically weight up how best we advance our political project rather than instinctively rejecting any option.

    The poster makes a good argument about why Mick o'Reilly's strategy for Labour can also apply to Sinn Fein.

    Tweaking the strategyI think that there are however some important differences that need to be considered before that strategy would best suit Sinn Fein.

    From the recent polls Labour is likely to get about 30 seats plus their electoral basis is firmly south of the border. Sinn Fein would probably get about ten seats.

    While Labour might be able to use its weight to force the old block parties to join in a coalition its a weight that Sinn Fein don't yet have and without the agreement of the labour party to stand by our side we would be cast aside. If labour move while we stand still then we have a perfect example of the so called Prisoner's dilemma (work together and we all win but if our allies cheat then they win and we lose). We need them to stand with us for the strategy to work.

    So thats requirement one - Labour must be in on it from the start.

    Breaking FF and FGWe saw all too often in the Red C polls that a FF rise meant a drop for SF. There was a clear cross over between our vote and the broad FF base. It means we have great opportunity to build our base but also can suffer from the strength of the old blocks.

    I think its also worth looking at Fine Gael and who they are. We frequently think of the Leo Varadkar/Brian Hayes/Austin Deasy types (god the list could go on and on) as the entire FG party and then think their voters are the same. But their voters are not the same. I have family members who voted FG and then Martin Ferris in his first run at Europe. They are Republican, and regular working people. They are not unique and this is where I think the writer above makes another important point. The old block parties have so dominated the political scene that they have drawn to them voters who should be SF, should be labour, Green, Far right, and surely even some far left. We know and accept this for FF but do we really think FG is different. Is every one of those 36% voting FG a little Brian Hayes? I dont think so! There is a wide range of people assembled under each banner not by choice but by lack of it. Just like there are Fianna Failers who can he split away from FF then its the same for FG.

    We cannot talk about stifling civil war politics without recognising these are not monolithic parties. Just as FF can be fractured then so can Fine Gael.

    I suggest thats requirement number 2 for the strategy - we need to know when to change gear and switch strategy to open up those cracks in either FG or FF.

    Making the strategy workWhen I discussed Labour and their political strenth being south of the border I never mentioned SF. Significantly about 2/3 of our political strength is north of the border. Now thats been repeatedly highlighted as a weakness but in the above outlined strategy it could be a strength. If we stand back to force a realingment then we need to be able to keep ourselves politically relevant. Spreading our political influence over the border would be critical. The danger of becoming irrelevant by applying the strategy would be very real but the bulwark of the 6 counties is an advantage. However as the poster mentions what if a coalition included concrete steps to bring this island closer together politically. Those steps would allow us build strength faster, create more change and accelerate the realignment into a new political environment at an even faster pace.

    We have to consider our size, who our allies are and how we can expose the inherent fractures in both old parties while bringing the island closer politically so as to bring our full weight to bear.

    Thats also a long term aim.


  3. jer

    good post. iam the original poster. we need to look at everything.

    by and large our support comes from the marginalised, especialy in dublin. if we where part of a government that was making progress on the boarder but inflicting cuts then what are our chances of being ingovernment a second time. how much of the all ireland agenda could we pull off in one term, bearing in mind ahearns two terms the last two governments were oddities in that they lasted the full term, its not the norm for a government to last 5 years down here. does anyone really want to be in government now, i'd say cowan would love to be on the opposition benches. he's getting his payback for his loyalty to ahern when those stories where going around at the last election, say he wished he didn't bother. then theres the greens. there talk about regotiating a programme for government is openly being refferd to as an exit stratagy. the greens are someone we should watch closely. as a small party. will there support stick with them.

    but as you say if labour jump then where are we. your right were stuck on the opposition, then what. we have our principles and little else.
    i wonder how FG's flannery statement is going down in labour. by opening the door to us FG are essentialy giving themselves options and potentialy closeing the door to labour. a big FG is not in labours interests, if i was them i'd spend between now and the next general election subtley undermining FG. if that starts to happen we may get our ideal option yet. if it dosent then god bless labour.

  4. so after all the votes in the euros and locals are counted. what lessons are there for us in following the greens into a colalition type government.

    it would be another viniger hill. republican massacr.

    was watching gormly on Q nd A tonight. preformed well but talk about back to the wall. his party have been decimated because of involvement in governmet which to be fair and with out sinisism iam sure he did for honest motives to push forward a green agenda close to his hart but if he pulls out of government and kick starts an election his party in all likly hood would be compleately wiped out. what to do what to do. could have been us.

    thaught mary lou did well. not as much hositity to her as usual. was that manners or that they don't see us as a threat any more. in the scheame of things not importent. she pushed the left alternative line well. strangest question and answers in along time the two largest opposition parties looked under more pressure than the government. again not importent
    on an interesting note was not aware that labour have apparently ruled out SF as potential coalition partners for a few years now, mary lou got a good dig in at joan burton of carema of the back of it that labours role is to prop up FG governments. think we should push that line. mary lou sounded more forward thinking and realistic than the bullshit bruton and burton were sproting. which is where we should be.

    congratulations and comiserations depending on your geography in the elections. up the Republic

  5. thats about the size of it. taking to a green recently and said to him there but for the grace of god were we. a sobering thought.

    if gormley had shown some guts and left a few months back he could have maybe saved the day through sheer brass neck and an appeal as an honest party. His cautious now steady steady approach was wrong and rather than stake all and potentially win he has instead choose to flitter it all away.

    MLM as always was very good. a great standard bearer for sf in the south. The labour rejection of a left coalition with sf was a bit disappointing.
    The alternative to build a broad left coalition still exists but maybe more so with those who vote for labour than those who are elected for labour.
    We can speak for those who vote for labour and reach out to them even if the labour now decides its path is with fine gael.
    we can speak for and represent the broad left coalition of voters.
    thats the first alliance we can build and represent and we can broaden it and build it with the Unions and the communities of ireland.

    Considering the thought out, innovative, costed, clear proposals the party has in its arsenal then its fair to say we can stand our ground policy wise, its fair to say, considering the north, we are clearly ready for govt. and its fair to say that we have nothing left to prove to other parties etc considering their desperate attempts to hint at coalition.

    we can expose the weak positions of labour and Fine Geal (ff and greens are doing their own job) and rip them to pieces. Its time to take them to task. We now know they'll jump through hoops for us if they need us in a coalition. Its time to make them sweat. I'd rather lose labour and Fine Gael and represent the voters. Those two will crawl back.

    Do we requires a shift to the left or a shift to the right? No i dont think so but it is time to enter into opposition against the next govt. and start chastising them hard.

    Sinn Fein remains the only party that can build a Republic that will turn the last 80 years on its head.


    ups and down in this election but