Irish Examiner view: Government formation - Time to be pragmatic and positive

Irish Examiner view: Government formation - Time to be pragmatic and positive
Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin and leader Eamon Ryan. Picture:Gareth Chaney/Collins

It is not necessary to be one of those self-contained souls happy to wallow in the calm that lockdown offered to wonder why anyone enters politics.

Joining a party, any party, with ambitions to become a public representative, is a tacit surrender of privacy, for the aspiring candidate’s family too.

Family and social life are put on hold. Electoral hopes mean that every half-forgotten skeleton in every cupboard will be kicked awake, interrogated, and exploited.

Then there are the toxic tsunamis of social media. Any candidate, well nearly any candidate, will face the wildest, most inaccurate and poisonous allegations.

Any candidate who braves that lion’s den — where most of the lions are masked — needs a very thick skin. It is not a battleground for the faint-hearted.

Yet last February 531 candidates tried to win one of 159 Dáil seats available. Four months later, that process boils down to the capacity of three leaders, Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin, and Eamon Ryan, to convince their party members to accept a deal they have agreed to form a government.

The outcome will be known on Friday.

Varadkar and Martin are faced with a shrinking core of refuseniks who will not co-operate with their traditional opponents under any circumstances. History will sweep them away, or at least it should.

They can turn to a core of worldly-wise politicians who understand that idealism must occasionally be tempered with pragmatism.

This week, as coalition talks reach a do-or-die moment, that cohort will be pragmatic as they will have, more than once, considered politics’ age-old leveller: What is the alternative?

Ryan faces a quite different challenge, in scale and character.

He must convince two-thirds of the Greens’ 32-county membership that coalition is a viable option.

To do that, he can point out that tens of thousands of voters voted through gritted teeth in February for either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael not to support them, but rather to stymie the alternatives.

His opponents will point to the fate of all parties brave enough to serve as a junior partner in coalition.

Yet that comparison is not as valid as its advocates might think.

Neither the PDs nor Labour, nor the Greens under John Gormley, were in a comparable situation. Our understanding of the climate collapse has advanced to the point that anyone in a position to do anything to try to avert it is obliged to do so.

If that involves a Faustian pact, that imperative is unchanged. That argument is sharpened by the suggestion that President Higgins might not dissolve the Dáil should these talks fail.

There is another question that deserves an answer. Our politics are ever more fragmented, yet we expect our politicians to build a coalition from an ever-more diverse parliament.

Yet, in time, we punish the small parties brave enough to step forward to make government work. Could the politicians, for once, be ahead of the electorate?

Are we far too quick and unthinking to forget eaten bread?

In any event, we quickly need a government. The deal on the table, no matter what reservations some members of the Greens might justifiably have, is the best available.

It’s time to be pragmatic but focused and positive too.

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