TODAY'S NEWS IS that there is still no new Government formed. Parties have been meeting. At last, it has been established that there are, as yet, no clear winners. The magic number is 83. Fianna Fáil (78) must work even for the support of their 2 PD colleagues. Fine Gael (51) must fight even to keep the Labour Party on board of their proposed alternative coalition. The king makers as between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are: Labour Party (20), PDs (2), Green Party Comhaontas Glas (6), Independents (5), Sinn Féin (4).
From day to day, the preferred options vary.
TODAY, THE FAVOURITES among media pundits are: FIANNA FÁIL, GREEN PARTY and PDs - making a total of 86 for the re-election of Bartholomew Ahern as Taoiseach of a new Coalition Government.
The difficulties here include the contentious questions of the present destruction of a major part of the historic Tara site through which the present Government is building a new motorway, the use of Irish airports, especially Shannon, for the transport of US troops to the war arena in Iraq, electronic voting (all at variance with Green aspirations). On many other environmental issues such as the pollution of water, global warming, renewable energy, public transport, improved building standards, it would be likely that Fianna Fáil might acquiesce or the Greens compromise (if FF have not already stolen the clothes of the Greens). Also, the PDs and Greens haven't much in common. The abolition of "corporate donations" (to political parties) is also high on the Greens agenda. Nor can Fianna Fáil rely unequivocally on PD support any longer.
Many Fianna Fáil TDs will also be uneasy sharing power with the Greens.
A bigger problem here may be the clouds hanging over Taoiseach Bartholomew Ahern from the Mahon Tribunal (postponed till Wednesday 6 June because of the illness of its star witness, Thomas Gilmartin).
ANOTHER COMBINATION, high up among the favourites, are: FIANNA FÁIL, the PDs and INDEPENDENTS John Healy Ray, Beverly Flynn, Finian McGrath, Michael Lowry and Anthony Gregory - making a total of 85 for the re-election of Bartholomew as Taoiseach of a slightly different Coalition Government.
The difficulties facing this combination are the demands the Independents will make for giving their support. Here are the Independents in question:
JOHN HEALY RAY, better known as JACKIE Healy ray, a former Fianna Fáil TD, has already supported Bartholomew in return for favours unspecified, beneficial to Healy-Ray's constituency in Co Kerry. Fianna Fáil would be confident of his support again although officially this Deputy has kept his options open.
BEVERLY FLYNN, expelled from Fianna Fáil after her action for libel against a TV reporter failed, is believed to want back into the party. Her support should be easily achieved, although not at her own price.
FINIAN MCGRATH was one of the deputies who gave a guarantee before the election not to participate in any Government that would allow Shannon Airport or other Irish facilities to be used by the United States to conduct war in Iraq or any other imperialist war. As Bartholomew's Government committed Ireland to this war even before it was declared supposedly "legal" by the UN, and as he has worked closely with both George W Bush and Anthony Blair in supporting its continued execution, this could well be an insoluble difference denying Bartholomew this Deputy's support.
A former soup runner for the homeless of Dublin and Simon Community worker, McGrath would also be expected to strike a hard bargain on many "agreed" subjects - replacing lip-service with action on a wide range of issues including the homeless, the sick, the disabled, workers, children, the under-addressed issue of bullying in Irish schools and many local problems.
MICHAEL LOWRY, like Beverly Flynn, was in trouble with his own party (Fine Gael). The cloud over him had formed because of the revelation at another Tribunal (the McCracken Tribunal) that supermarket tycoon Ben Dunne had paid IR£395,000 for an extension to his home in Tipperary. He resigned from Cabinet in November 1996 and resigned from Fine Gael, being subsequently re-elected as an Independent.
This deputy should have no difficulty in supporting Fianna Fáil, having already made a statement that they look the more realistic prospect. However, his vote is still not promised.
ANTHONY GREGORY, better known as TONY Gregory, elected in Bartholomew's own constituency, may not have been yet contacted by Bartholomew. In a previous election he had struck the hardest bargain ever for his support for Taoiseach Charles Haughey, making the famous "Gregory Deal" public immediately and promising that he might withdraw his support on any disputed issue during the life-time of the Government. In November 1982, true to his promise, he helped bring down the Haughey Government by abstention on a vote of confidence.
The Gregory Deal was a signpost for some of the issues that are closest to this Deputy's heart - civil and social rights, housing, social and community structures, respect and help for people in disadvantaged areas, for the neglected, for workers and the poor, with particular emphasis on his own inner city constituency. Close on policy issues to the defeated Joe Higgins, like him and Finian McGrath he vehemently opposed the invasion of Iraq and Ireland's participation in it through the use of Shannon airport, and like both of them signed the declaration not to participate in any Government that would allow Shannon Airport or other Irish facilities to be used by the United States to conduct war in Iraq or any other imperialist war.
He understands the machinations of Government and is nobody's fool. He will be expected to strike a hard bargain for his support
A third favourite combination is:FIANNA FÁIL and the LABOUR PARTY allowing for a total of 98 votes for Bartholomew Ahern as Taoiseach of a new Coalition Government
The difficulties here are the strong unrelenting promises of Labour leader Patrick Rabbitte not to enter Government with Fianna Fáil and a recollection of what happened to the Party when a previous leader, Richard Spring, unexpectedly did a 180 degree turnabout after an election and returned Fianna Fáil to power . Rabbitte is strong on his convictions and in spite of internal turmoil, will not be expected to cave in or turn his back on his pre-election arrangement with Enda Kenny and Fine Gael unless and until the latter concedes defeat.
However, there are internal dissensions in Labour as in all parties suffering an apparent electoral setback
Significantly, this combination also appears to be last on the Taoiseach's wish list although you couldn't be sure whether the public message from Bartholomew on this subject truly reflects what he believes in private.
As with all other prospective partners of Fianna Fáil, PDs, Greens and Independents, the fear of the revelations from the Mahon Tribunal about Bartholomew's veracity re money transactions may put a hold on any Labour Party decision also to commit absolutely to entering Government with Fianna Fáil.
THE ALTERNATIVE TO THE ABOVE is the Alternative Coalition back-boned by Fine Gael and Labour with their combined total of 71 votes.
The possibilities here are just two:
FINE GAEL, LABOUR, GREEN PARTY, PDs, INDEPENDENTS with a total of 84 votes.
FINE GAEL, LABOUR, GREEN PARTY, PDs, and 4 INDEPENDENTS with a total of 83 votes.
AS OF NOW, none of the deputies outside the Fianna Fáil party is committed beforehand and the fact that Enda Kenny has held out hope for all of them in an Alternative Government means that each one, even the 2 PDs, can hold out and bargain for the better option for themselves.
IN BOTH OF THESE SCENARIOS, some of the same difficulties exist as obtained for the Fianna Fáil-led possibilities, e.g. PDs co-existing with Greens, Independents and two Labour deputies bound by their commitments on the use of Shannon airport, some Green policies at variance with those of Fine Gael, Independents' priorities at variance with PDs, and some with Fine Gael and Labour. The big obstacle NOT looming on the horizon to scupper these two options are the expected revelations of the ongoing Mahon Tribunal..
THERE ARE OTHER SCENARIOS too depending on which party offers to make a sacrifice and accept the office of Ceann Comhairle, a double-edged sword, as, if the votes tie, the Ceann Comhairle can give the decisive vote , otherwise the Ceann Comhairle has no vote.
IN ALL OF THE ABOVE, the 4 SINN FÉIN deputies have been omitted from the equation. This is because the big parties have excluded them beforehand. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not they will exclude them if they can make a difference. It has never been explained satisfactorily how Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour agree that Sinn Féin - members of this same party - should hold Executive seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and even have laboured long and hard to ensure that this should come to pass, and yet exclude them as a matter of principle from sharing power in the Republic of Ireland.
All 4 have made the commitment concerning the use of Shannon airport, which leaves them in the same position as two Independents and two Labour deputies with whom they have also found much in common on social justice and human rights issues. This then is not the reason for their exclusion.
IF SINN FÉIN WERE CONSIDERED "WORTHY", which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, the configurations given above would all need alteration. Both alternatives could benefit from their inclusion. In a previous Government, Sinn Féin the Workers Party, previously taboo on the political scene, were warmly welcomed into Government under their new name of Democratic Left. Former members of Sinn Féin the Workers Party are none other than Patrick Rabbitte, present leader of the Labour Party, and Proinsias de Rossa who serves with distinction in the European Parliament after a term in the Irish Government as Minister for Social Welfare.