FG/FF coalition proposal - A suggestion that makes perfect sense

As nearly any self-help book worth 10 minutes on prime time radio will assert, changing yourself is the greatest challenge of all.

As any historian worth 20 minutes at even an unfashionable summer school will tell you, societies that do not keep up as the world changes around them will fail, the only issue is how long it might take. As any politician interested in advancing society rather than career or party will concede, absolute positions can hardly ever be sustained on a permanent basis. Compromise is the lubricant of achievement.

Yet we, in our political life, in the management and application of our democracy, endorse positions that are almost unchanging, nearly absolute and deeply resistant to a changed and still changing world.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are, loosely, two parties of the centre more or less defined by Christian values and a liberal — even if uncertainly so — approach. It is hard to think of a basic issue they disagree on so strongly that one or the other might be able to raise their voice with any degree of sincerity. Of course we have the usual Punch-and-Judy folderols, but that is more about making an impression than making a difference.

The parties remain defiantly divided, viscerally certain of the integrity of their own singularity. Almost a century after the tragedy that defined their different paths, they remain resolutely divided when any rational assessment suggests that two parties is one too many. Of course there may be clashes of personalities or minor cultural differences, but if the objective is, as we must hope it is, a better Ireland, then that seems as obvious as, well, Enda Kenny’s and Micheál Martin’s nationalism.

In recent days the issue was revisited by former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke when she suggested that the parties should consider offering themselves as a potential coalition at the next general election. Whether her call is motivated by the possibility that Fianna Fáil might be eclipsed by Sinn Féin or a more noble, inevitable acceptance of the push of history, remains to be seen. It is sad though that Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, even if he is right, immediately questioned the motives behind the suggestion. Of course there may be an element of self-preservation, but so what? Should it come to pass and be successful then the baser motivations move will quickly be forgotten and we will wonder why it hadn’t happened decades ago.

We already insist that unionists and Sinn Féin work together in the North. We celebrate the fact that Nelson Mandela worked with those who jailed him and persecuted his community. Our very economic survival depends on the good relations between France and Germany holding firm, yet we cannot take what seems an obvious and overdue step in our political lives.

The standard reply to the suggestion that the two parties might unite or at least work more closely together is that it is a good idea, but it will never happen. At this moment when the legitimacy and integrity of our political, economic and social structures are being challenged as never before, that glib, almost cowardly, response rings too hollow. It is time Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael asked themselves whose interests are best served by their independent existences — the parties’ or the country’s. Their response will tell us a lot about whose interests they put first.

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