Daniel McConnell: Election looks likely as smaller parties shy away from government

Daniel McConnell: Election looks likely as smaller parties shy away from government

Fears held by some Fine Gael ministers that the current process of forming a government will come to nothing are well-founded, it must be said.

Even though a joint policy paper is about to be agreed between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the ultimate formation of a government is looking increasingly remote because of the posturing of smaller parties.

Speaking to me earlier this week, several of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s top ministers expressed grave doubt as to whether the smaller parties have the appetite to form a government at a time of crisis and avoid a second election.

A number of Fine Gael ministers do not believe a government can be formed and that a second general election will be needed.

The ministers believe an agreement can be reached with Fianna Fáil, but that no other party will step up and enter government, forcing the country to vote again.

“I just don’t see any of the other parties stepping up,” said one source. “If you’re the Labour Party, given what happened to them in 2016, would you sign up for another suicide mission? No, of course not. The Greens, as far as I could see it, never wanted to go in, and who knows about the Social Democrats?”

The ministers fear that many people do not realise that, because of the Covid-19 crisis, the new government will need to take very drastic and tough decisions and you can’t do that with a minority government or if you are reliant on Independents.

“People are talking about 80 seats,” said one minister. “For what we have to do, we would need 90-plus and I just can’t see that coming to pass. We are in 2011 territory in terms of the decisions we have to take. You simply can’t do that with a majority of two or three.”

The concerns about the decisions that country is facing later in the year are justified, as the full scale of the Covid-19 crisis cannot yet be quantified.

The cessation of unprecedented emergency payments totalling several billion euro at some point in the future once the crisis passes is straightforward when you have a large majority.

But, in a minority government or in a government depending on Independents, every move becomes a battle and it is inevitable that in such a scenario there would be resistance to making such a call.

Even though both MrVaradkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have committed to not considering austerity measures, in truth such promises are seriously dubious.

Such an explosion in spending and such a collapse in tax revenues will inevitably place the public finances into peril and cuts to spending are inevitable.

But, if my ministerial sources are correct and we are back into 2011 territory, where €6bn a year was being shaved off government spending, such tough decisions will require a robust government to implement it.

We are now 62 days on from the general election, but the likelihood of a second election is growing by the day.

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