I took the liberty of writing Santa a letter... explaining to him the political scenario here, writes Alison O’Connor
t’s been obvious since the beginning that outside help was needed in the formation of a government. The only person fit to intervene is a global figure; one with an international reputation and who is universally liked, yet has the authority to do the necessary job.
Whom do I speak of? Well, Santa Claus, of course. Things have got to such a stage that Lapland’s best ambassador is looking like the only man for the task. He would have a store of goodwill, something that has been in remarkably short supply in our political system these recent weeks.
One of the main reasons that I thought of the big red man was the realisation that he is the only one in the world possibly capable of satisfying the list of demands from all sides, a list that has grown with each day that passes. Given the complex list of demands and egos involved, Pere Noel will have his work cut out for him.
I took the liberty of writing him a letter, confident that he’s had time to recuperate since the December rush. I explained the scenario — here’s the Fine Gael party, which simply wants to get back into power at any cost. Its boss, Enda Kenny, will oversee any deal to ensure a historic second term as Taoiseach.
Then, we have Fianna Fáil; the guys who are so clever that they’d meet themselves on the way back. I told Santa Claus that if he checked Wikipedia, he’d see they were almost wiped out five years ago, but could be back as our biggest party before you can say ‘Celtic Tiger’. The Fianna Fáilers are keen to stress their bona fides.
I told Santa it was tricky to explain, but that Fianna Fáil say their mandate is to get Fine Gael out of government, yet they are now apparently going to support them in a minority government. They have lots of demand for Fine Gael, but don’t want to be held in any way responsible for any decisions taken.
I said that, whatever else happened, to never use the word ‘co-operate’ in their hearing; what they’ll be doing is ‘facilitating’ a government. It was also important, I felt, to stress that, despite a outwardly tough appearance, deep down Fianna Fáilers are of a delicate constitution and prone to being easily wounded.
My goodness, isn’t it so easy to imagine Fianna Féil leader, Micheál Martin, nodding sincerely to Santa and telling him what a good boy he’s been since February 28. In truth, what I imagine him asking Santa is the same thing that I saw on a sign in a shop at Christmas, which stated: ‘Dear Santa, Define what you mean by good.’
After the initial letter I sent, Santa and I moved to email, back and forth over a few days. Obviously, he had many questions, not least about the Independents. I began with all the different kinds: the rural, the urban, the pro-life, the pro-choice, those that are related, those that are obsessed with the health services; those that were once Fianna Fáil, or once Fine Gael, or who can’t stand either party; and those that will go with the highest bidder.
I also explained about the one ex-Fine Gael guy who’d stick with the party like glue in a vote situation. They pretend not to like him, but love that his vote is solid.
In truth, I told Santa that, over these past few weeks, the Independents have been having the ride of their lives, even though, technically, they shouldn’t even be on the bus; how many of them were elected on an anti-establishment vote, but were now threatening to join that very establishment? And they have become a sort of political party themselves, meeting to have discussions and make decisions collectively.
Now that they’ve taken part in the process, the Independents are wisely leaving it until the end to decide whether to commit to a deal or not, I explained to Santa. He seemed to understand the political reality of why they would wait to see what was agreed between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
It became clear to Santa, pretty quickly, I believe, that if he were to become involved he would have to explain to this particular gang that, no matter how well-behaved they’ve been all year, big seasonal splurges costing billions of euros and involving new motorways and railways lines simply will not fit down the national chimney.
At least, if there are face-to-face talks, the Independents will be able to state their case and explain how they have been behaving angelically during the marathon negotiations.
They can completely discount those rotten rumours, which swept the place last weekend, that they made 100 demands for public spending and new tax incentives, in return for support. They can explain that the only interest on their minds is the aforementioned national one.
I found it impossible to explain to Santa the keenness of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to have the support of the Independents, even though both, at different times, had treated the Independents badly; Fianna Fáil put a gun to their heads in advance of last week’s vote for Taoiseach, and Fine Gael released the juicy details of their political Christmas list.
I mentioned about the Labour party and how, understandably, they didn’t seem to know which end was up; how there was a raft of others in our parliament who hadn’t a notion of stepping up to the plate, but that Santa should keep an eye on Sinn Fein, who wouldn’t oppose his involvement, but would be keen to get the elves unionised.
I told him all about the roadmaps, the talks, the headlines, the hours of airtime being filled, the radio silences, the major gaps, the minor ones, ‘fudges’ on water, the need for stability, Civil War politics, Fine Gael poshness, and Fianna Fáil prickliness.
I explained about how my colleagues on the Leinster House plinth were collectively on the verge of a nervous breakdown, as they spent day after day chasing after politicians, hoping for any smidgin of information that might mean something.
I also elaborated on how pundits like me were obviously talking through our behinds when we laid blame at the door of Fianna Fáil, given that the party topped its first opinion poll in seven years, last weekend, in a Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes. They reached 26%.
Look, I won’t pretend he understood it all, or even felt he had the necessary skills to sort it all out. He did mention how Belgium had been without an elected government for 589 days, but I said that, unlike the Flemish and the Walloons, our crowd at least spoke the same language.
He’s gone to the sun for a few days to think about it. But, in his last email, he did wonder, near the end, if, maybe, we’d just be better off with another general election straightaway.
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