Juno McEnroe: Contagion opens up path to coalition

Juno McEnroe: Contagion opens up path to coalition

All changed, changed utterly. These are defining words from another era that described the explosion of violence on the streets around the Easter Rising. But the poetry of WB Yeats poignantly now illustrates a terrible horror rising over our country and planet: Covid-19.

There is nothing more striking than the leader of your country telling you that what you will experience will be “like nothing we have experienced in living memory” as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has done in relation to the virus.

Up to 60% or more of the population could be infected; between 1% and 3% of these people could die; there is no vaccine or immunity and all we can do is slow down the rise of the virus. So how does this terrible infection shape the governing of our country?

Ironically, it is the perfect antidote for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and the standoff in the government formation talks, which to date have involved politicians shadowboxing, skirting around each other in a re-run of the very election that threw up the political stalemate in the first place.

Coronavirus is a national and international crisis, as Mr Varadkar said. And it will facilitate a much quicker and agreeable path to a new coalition between the rival parties.

Mr Varadkar, at a press conference where the full scale of the coronavirus was finally laid bare, revealed that his party was coming close to “the last resort”, as he called it. This is where other options for government formation have been tried and it is then left for Fine Gael to re-enter power but only if it is needed.

Mr Varadkar said he would address whether this “last resort” threshold had been met in the days ahead.

He dispelled the notion of an ad-hoc national government, pointing to “the disruption” that is involved with just one set of new ministers settling into new roles, besides two in a short period.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told RTÉ the context for the government talks as well as the next coalition had “changed”.

This sums up where Fine Gael is at. And it would seem inevitable now that it meets Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s request for a new coalition involving them and others.

If both leaders agree, this will be, in all but name, an emergency government. Election promises can be re-moulded with the virus crisis; the nation faces immediate peril and a new plan is warranted; the mandate is to slow down the spread of infection and save lives.

It doesn’’t mean other crises in housing and health can be ignored, but there is a new priority that, in essence, is a remedy for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s coalition woes, particularly for the former.

The outgoing government knows how to ramp up health spending overnight; it can move around billions of euro to fight Covid-19; it is in touch with EU counterparts, supporting businesses and working with the banks.

There will be no mass street protests and limited opposition to a strong new government, formed to survive and fight the effects of the virus.

And if the emergency coalition doesn’t succeed, parties could allow the Dail to decide on government in a year’s time or even fresh elections.

All is indeed changed, changed utterly.

    Useful information
  • The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
  • Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department - if this is not possible, phone 112 or 999 and in a medical emergency (if you have severe symptoms) phone 112 or 999

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