The Irish will have a unique coalition after five months of negotiations. For the first time in its centennial history, the two major parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will rule the green island together. Not only that: the bitter rivals of yesteryear are also joined by The Greens, another unique one.
For two new elections, Prime Minister Micheál Martin (Fianna Fáil) has received three ship’s rights. Another first: Leo Varadkar, Martin’s predecessor, will take over the premiership midway through the ride. Welcome to the wonderful world of Irish politics.
For 59-year-old Martin, this was the last chance to secure his country’s most important job. Although his party had disappointingly lost seven seats, he was the big favourite to become Taoiseach (“captain”).
The winner of the elections was Sinn Fein, but soon it turned out that nobody wanted to cooperate with this left-nationalist party. Sinn Fein thinks the Fine Gael of Varadkar is far to the left, Fianna Fáil has been suspicious of the party that was seen as the political wing of the IRA for a hundred years and the Greens simply do not think the “Shinners” are green enough.
In short, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and The Greens were dependent on each other. The blow of the coalition negotiations would have led to new elections, with possibly even greater victory for Sinn Fein.
The Greens, with seven percent of the vote, have achieved a lot. In the coming years there will be a lot of attention for climate change. Restoring the economy damaged by the lockdown will go hand in hand with investments in green infrastructure. For this reason, within the small farmers’ party Fianna Fáil, there was resistance to the coalition agreement.
Martin’s premiership marks the return of Fianna Fáil, the party of the father of the fatherland: Éamon de Valera. With the exception of Fine Gael’s short reigns, the nationalists ruled Ireland until 2011. In that year, the Soldiers of Destiny (meaning Fianna Fáil) were presented with the bill of the banking crisis. Under Fine Gael’s liberal Varadkar, the Catholic island subsequently underwent a socio-cultural metamorphosis – legalization of same-sex marriage and abortion – but economic inequality grew. The rise of Sinn Féin, popular among young people, was a response to that.
Martin’s first task is to save the economy, although the problems are not structural in nature, unlike ten years ago. Martin’s advantage is his versatility. In recent decades, he has had the portfolios of Foreign Affairs, Health, Education, Science, Trade and Employment. One problem is that this old history teacher is known as a cautious politician. According to his enemies, he is a doubter who doesn’t make big decisions. Martin will continue to support the uncompromising Brexit policy in Brussels.
With this coalition, the parties opt for unity in these difficult times. Much old lives very much between the two parties. Within Fianna Fáil ranks, Fine Gael is sometimes referred to as The Blueshirts, while pointing at a flirtation with fascism in the 1930s. The mutual mistrust goes back to the Irish Civil War of 1922/23. Fine Gael’s predecessor was then before the Irish Free State, created after negotiations with the British, while Fianna Fáil continued to fight for an Irish Republic, including the North. With the centennial commemoration coming up, both parties have finally buried the hatchet.