Are John Gormley and the Greens already paving their exit?

If the new 55% rule caused a bit of friction in Britain, there is another not entirely unrelated debate taking place in the Republic just now. The UK coalition ought to take a glance over there at how the Irish coalition government is likely to end. There are a growing bundle of by elections the Fianna Fail end of the government seems extraordinarily reluctant to call. As Noel Whelan accounts in his op ed column on Saturday, this is for good reason:

We have a two-party minority government at a time when there are simultaneous vacancies in three different Dáil constituencies. In addition, Fianna Fáil has little prospect of winning any of them in a byelection. The timing of these byelections is, therefore, likely to impact significantly on the duration of the Government.

Yep, two parties. Which makes Niamh Connelly’s piece in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post all the more interesting. For Fianna Fail needs to retain government power sufficient long enough to demonstrate that being faced with tough choices, they did the right (not to mention the patriotic) thing.

The Greens require something quite different. In short, and put rather crudely, they need to develop a plausible exit from its ill starred partnership with Fianna Fail. And John Gormley’s interview with Connelly seems rather studded with departure points (some more plausible than others). The issue of the byelections being the first:

His firm intention is to proceed with the Dublin mayor elections in October, and his preference is for all three polls – the mayor elections, the by-elections and the referendum on children’s rights – to take place on one day.

‘‘If you hold the mayoralty elections, you do have a situation where you would have to – in terms of cost-effectiveness and efficiency – hold the by elections or even a referendum at the same time,” Gormley told The Sunday Business Post. ‘‘The timing of all of this will be a matter for cabinet but my personal view is that it makes sense to hold these at the same time, and we want to see if that’s practicable.”

The by-elections will inevitably reduce the government’s slim majority, probably cutting it to just three – which could be perilous. ‘‘It’s clear that if you’re putting forward the scenario that the by-elections are lost, then the government’s majority would be eroded. But I don’t think that should be a reason for not holding by-elections.

For me, that’s not the impediment, the issue is whether it is cost-effective, efficient and best to do so. That’s the one and only reason that motivates us.

Yeah, right! Anything that puts a distance between them and FF has to be good for them (that means looking for a soft-ish landing rather than the utter disaster the polls seem to be holding out for them just now) Then he has an interesting line on the banking crisis:

The Green Party had one of many stand-offs with its larger coalition colleagues over the public aspects of an independent inquiry into the banking crisis and an initial ‘scoping’ report is due to be submitted this week. When asked who he believed bore primary responsibility for the economic crisis, Gormley responded that successive governments played a role, and that it was ‘‘all too convenient to overlook the approach of all the political parties’’.

In respect of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA), Gormley wants to bring the scandal-hit agency under the remit of two Dail watchdogs – the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Office and the Public Accounts Committee – on the basis of ‘‘serious malpractices’’. ‘‘The manifestos of Fine Gael and Labour were talking about putting more petrol on the fire by getting rid of stamp duty. There was a very unrealistic view amongst all the political parties,” he said.

‘‘I mean, how many people actually got it right? I do believe that, for the most part, the Green Party got it right but we were lone voices. As [Labour Party TD] Pat Rabbitte said, the political parties didn’t want to be out of step because anyone who acted as a ‘Jeremiah’ on these things wasn’t going to get the votes.”

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