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Sunday 19 August 2018

Fergus Finlay: It's time to make that call, Enda, if you truly want a grand coalition

Enda, do you remember 1992? That was an election that could have led to a Fine Gael and Labour government, but it didn't. Labour won a lot of new seats, and Fine Gael lost some. But the numbers still weren't too bad.

A government would have been possible then, but only with the support of others.

We (Labour, that is) wanted you in Fine Gael to agree to go in with the Democratic Left, you wanted us to agree to the Progressive Democrats.

It was a stalemate, not helped by a poor relationship at the time between John Bruton and Dick Spring.

Anyway, in the middle of the stalemate, we said we'd talk to everyone who might be interested.

The FG reply was to the effect that we should go and take a running jump.

If we wanted to talk to you, we should talk, you said. You weren't prepared to let us shop around between prospective partners. Come back to us when you're ready, you said.

That was actually a pretty smart move on the part of Fine Gael.

If it had been the only pre-condition at the time, I suspect it would have made the Labour Party think again. Ultimately, there were other issues between us that made negotiation impossible.

We went off and formed a successful, if controversial and ultimately explosive, relationship with your oldest enemy, Fianna Fail.

Well, I suspect you may be contemplating the mistake we made then. I'm a bit surprised that you haven't made the call you need to make. As of late Sunday night, as I understand it, you're still thinking about what options might be open to you. Maybe there's still a possibility that you might reach 78 seats, although it seems unlikely, and maybe there are five or more independents that might be willing to vote for you as Taoiseach.

Well, look, you've won the right. You have a mandate, there's no denying that. And I reckon you've been underestimated for the last time.

But you need to make a choice. I'm only an ordinary member of the Labour Party, but I reckon no one is going into serious negotiations with anyone about forming a government while "options are still being considered".

In other words, I'm betting Eamon Gilmore isn't likely to allow himself to be played off against a few independents.

He's won a mandate too, after all. But his enables him to become leader of the opposition -- and right now, that might be an attractive place to be. Everyone knows that the decisions that have to be taken in the next couple of years aren't likely to sustain the Government's popularity -- but an effective opposition could have a field day.

The big question, I suppose, is what does the country need? If it's your view that the country needs a minority Fine Gael government, which might or might not last -- if you think, for example, you can persuade the international financial markets that stability and recovery can come that way -- then go for it, I say. You've earned the right to give it a try.

But perhaps you think the country needs stable government. It would be quite unique in Irish circumstances, of course -- a grand coalition for the first time. It was a grand coalition, a government of left and right with a substantial majority, that built the foundations in the mid-1960s for the prosperous Germany we know today.

Whichever you think is appropriate, you've earned the right to go for. The only thing is, I don't think you have the luxury of both options, Enda. Negotiations don't work like that, and time isn't on the country's side.

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