Good will and openness to new ways needed to make minority government work

Micheál Martin says we can learn from Denmark and others about how minority governments can work

I believe that we are in a position this week to make substantial progress towards the formation of a new government.

If there is good faith and a willingness to consider genuinely new approaches to government, then we can achieve an outcome which will deliver our country a breakthrough in how our country is governed rather than just focussing on who holds power.

The most frequent comment about the outcome of the general election is that it was unclear. I don’t agree with this. It is very clear that the Irish people have voted for a multi-party system where many parties and individuals have received very different mandates.

Yes it makes the initial formation of a government more difficult, but this is only a problem if you believe that the old way of forming governments in Ireland is the only way it can and should be done.

According to the majority of commentators, the only reasonable form of government is a majority government capable of controlling the full agenda of our parliament and administration. This type of “strong and stable” government is presented as essential for solving problems.

The facts show the opposite to be the case.

Many of our most urgent problems developed exactly because the government with the largest majority in our history, “strong and stable” in every way, was arrogant and out of touch. It sidelined the Oireachtas and ignored problem after problem until they were allowed to become crises.

In comparison, many countries which are far more comparable to Ireland than Britain have a long history of good governance and “weaker” governments.

Good will and openness to new ways needed to make minority government work

One third of all European governments since 1945 have been minority governments. Three out of the four Scandinavian countries are currently led by minority governments. All countries with a record of sustained social and economic progress.

In Denmark, the government is actually a single-party minority government consisting of the third- largest party which won 19% in their last election.

Minority governments can and do work, often working far better than less accountable majority governments.

Our national parliament has changed. It’s long past time we reflected this in how we form and operate government.

In recent weeks, this has been at the core of Fianna Fáil’s approach to negotiations. We produced a very detailed policy proposal within which short, medium and full-term objectives were identified.

These have been true to our core message in the election that we need new priorities to deliver an Ireland which serves all our people.

We have ruled out a coalition with Fine Gael. In this we have held exactly the same arguments as we used during the election when seeking people’s support.

One of the things which is most striking in recent days is the number of people who have decided that we have no right to keep our word. People who in many cases have spent years claiming that Fianna Fáil is not to be trusted are now demanding at great length in every part of the media that we should abandon our promise not to form a majority coalition government.

If we want to rebuild public trust in politics, isn’t it a good place to start to end the days of “ah sure isn’t that what you do during an election”?

Wouldn’t it mark a major change for the better if people started to believe that parties were committed to their major promises?

As we said during the election, we do not support the coalition option for specific reasons.

First of all, we have seen in recent years that strong majority governments can be arrogant, divisive and unfair.

Second, the priorities of our parties are too large for them to be bridged in a programme for government which would retain popular legitimacy.

Good will and openness to new ways needed to make minority government work

Finally, we need to move to a reformed political system which ends the days of dominant governments and gives every TD the right and obligation to participate in the work of the Oireachtas.

To try to dismiss divisions of today as “civil war politics” is superficial and dismissive. It misses vital differences between parties in the last nine decades.

It’s also bad history.

Fianna Fáil was founded by people who were very specifically committed to moving on from the civil war. The programme they developed and which so rapidly won the trust of the Irish people was a radical one based on social, economic and constitutional reform.

I will never accept an approach which dismisses 20,000 members and half a million voters as being defined only by events of nearly a century ago.

It is very common for there to be a range of parties who are seen as centrist but which maintain what are for them and their voters important divides.

In our history, every time a new government make-up has been agreed it has been hailed as a radical departure and a new type of partnership. It’s never been true. The only real change has been in who holds the power not how they use it.

Minority governments can work if people are willing to try — and they represent a much truer reflection of the need to change our politics than simply change titles.

Yes, there must be security that government can do its core business — but there is absolutely no need to have a situation where government has the first, last and only word on every matter.

We are offering a major compromise. We are actually pushing for real political change.

We will agree to a process which can allow a government to be formed and for that government to have reasonable security.

The outcome of the election was a surprise to many politicians and commentators because they have remained wedded to an increasingly outdated view of how politics and government should work.

Now is a moment to acknowledge that the people want a new approach to politics and government.


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