Irish Examiner View: Flying green flag will work for a while

Irish Examiner View: Flying green flag will work for a while

By the time the starter calls the field to order for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, just before 3.30pm on Friday, March 13, we may well have downgraded that old conundrum — how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? — to a first-round four-marker.

By the time that portentous date has rolled around, all of the easy options thrown up by Saturday’s election will have been stress-tested almost to destruction.

Therefore, by the time Willie Mullins sends the 100/1 Bellshill to the Prestbury Park starting line, we may just be at the end of the beginning of the process to form the 33rd Dáil.

Patience, endurance, and a dash of luck, the very qualities needed to win a Gold Cup, will be required.

That prospect is made all the more likely because, as that venerable of political poker Bertie Ahern pointed out, yesterday, Fianna Fáil’s participation in coalition needs a delegate conference endorsement of an already agreed programme for government.

That, in the context of the either-or options available, not to mention pre-election never-never promises, may prove to be a second-round six-marker.

It is not too hard to imagine that process might conclude with the idea that it is sadly necessary to sacrifice long-held principles, especially as the pain of that sacrifice would be assuaged by a longed-for return to power.

There may be internal opposition to that idea, one that casts aside promises not so long ago seemingly written in blood. That internal opposition might be especially strong among those who conclude — or hope — that Micheál Martin’s leadership has reached its final furlongs.

They might also be emboldened by Ahern’s suggestion that their party’s long-term future might be best served by a period in opposition, freed from the obligations and silences imposed by a supply-and-confidence agreement.

Versions of those same dilemmas challenge Fine Gael. However, that party seems more steadfast in its determination not to coalesce with Sinn Féin, the undoubted success story of the election.

Leo Varadkar’s party faces different questions, especially if the lifeboat of a partnership with Fianna Fáil materialises. Fine Gael may delude itself — again — and in its inner echo chamber pronounce that the longevity of the outgoing administration, rather than its languid delivery, was decisive. As long as that deafness persists, they will be also-rans.

In a country where the cost of securing an average house nudges towards €400,000 and where 90% of workers have, according to the Revenue Commissioners, a gross income below €90,000, they seem lost in a Downton Abbey fog of yesterday’s grandeur.

That is just one example, but that detachment is reflected in far too many of the party’s property-first policies. The assessment offered yesterday by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, that the vote was “harsh” because the public was “impatient”, showed a dispiriting lack of self-awareness for such a senior figure.

That so few women were elected — just one in all Cork — is dispiriting. It is possible that there will be fewer women in the next Dáil than the 35 standing down. This hardly reflects progress and puts our enthusiasm for endorsing socially positive constitutional amendments in a grim light.

If the old, diminished parties face huge questions, then Sinn Féin face huge challenges with the opportunity offered it. Arch revisionists, with good reason, the party has claimed it won the election, though it was endorsed by around just one-in-four voters.

How it balances its green-flag agenda — ‘Come Out Ye Black ‘n’ Tans’ — with the issues that fuelled the anger that swept it to unprecedented heights is the great question.

Unless Sinn Féin can find a way to make today’s economy work for all participants and better-share reward and security, then it will quickly discover how accurate John Hume’s decades-ago warning remains — “you can’t eat a flag”.

Times and elections may have changed, but our core needs and hopes have not. It’s still the economy, stupid.

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