Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

FG can govern without Labour - if it wants to

Enda Kenny went out to achieve a mandate, to put a programme to the people of Ireland and get their approval. It was a cleverly worded document, incomplete in some important areas like the bailout, which was treated cautiously by the main parties and on which further structural work is still required.

But he proposed enough in his programme to win what Fine Gael has never won before, the support of a sufficient number of voters to give us a stable single-party government.

He did this under constant niggling attack from a defeated and humiliated Fianna Fail whose future survival as a major party or a political movement must now be seriously in doubt. He also did it, we should remember, under constant attack by the Labour Party despite their potential to be in partnership with Fine Gael.

We have since witnessed a so-called negotiation for that partnership out of which has emerged news of lectures given to the negotiators by public servants telling them of more dire facts on the economy than they knew before.

In addition to telling them bad news, these public servants have not been shy about indicating which direction the Fine Gael-Labour negotiators should take -- even though they had no right to do that. Instead of a Croke Park Deal we are faced with a Sycamore Room Deal -- just as inappropriate, patronising and intrusive as the trade unions have been, so doggedly, with Fianna Fail, over the past 14 years.

No one seems to have woken up to the fact that we are in New Found Land and the people charting the way forward belong to the Fine Gael Party. They think differently from Labour and made that clear throughout the election. Given the size of their vote Labour has an outside chance of being part of the government if they sacrifice all the differences they threw in the face of Fine Gael throughout the campaign.

No other approach can, or should be allowed to put them in power. Similarly, Fine Gael, after their triumph, are being invited to compromise -- the last thing they planned for as they put together their programme for government.

One thing is certain: Irish voters did not vote for a Fine Gael-Labour coalition committed to implementing a mishmash of the two parties' manifestos.

That could have happened only if the two parties had agreed a common programme before the election. It is dishonest to suggest, as the 'Irish Times' did this week, that there is an obligation on these two parties to form a coalition. A Fine Gael minority government would be as stable and secure as a coalition for the next three years. This is because of the necessity for Fianna Fail to support it from the other side of the House. One of our greatest leaders, Sean Lemass, was a master of minority governments in the 1960s.

It is reasonable to ask: why did not Fine Gael explore the other alternatives first? At the very least, they should have structured the current talks on the lines of: 'We, the biggest party, intend to do this. Are you with us?'

The political situation is more favourable to Enda Kenny than at first appears. For Fianna Fail there is no real social basis for its continued life as a political party. Fine Gael, always naturally of the Right, is what people voted for.

By so doing the electorate deprived Fianna Fail of political meaning. The Fianna Fail rump that is left will not be attempting any active opposition to what Kenny has said he intends to do.

They are a spent and demoralised force and need time to absorb the scale of their defeat and the dissolution it has led to of their whole meaning as a political party.

A further word about Fianna Fail is necessary in terms of their mandate when set against the new mandate on which Fine Gael would govern if they decide to accept that difficult but rewarding solo role for themselves.

Fianna Fail was responsible for placing on the shoulders of the Irish people a huge, indeed an intolerable, burden. This was the blanket bank guarantee and the EU/IMF deal.

They did worse, of course; they gave us up in chains to Europe, by pushing through the second Lisbon Treaty referendum.

The issue is not leaving Europe nor, at this stage, abandoning the euro.

We should do this; but as things stand at present it looks as if it will be the euro that topples without our further aid.

What we have to do is take a tough line, from this day out, on getting from the EU a radical reduction in the debt that was imposed on us by the incompetent Fianna Fail government now so peremptorily dismissed by the electorate.

WE should encourage or demand a bold and resolute change in attitude. Enda Kenny and those he trusts immediately around him are on an equal footing with 26 other EU members and with the inner circle of 17 within the eurozone.

It is actually in Labour's interest to be separate from this.

They have never had an opportunity as good, where one of the two right-wing parties has been annihilated and the other favoured by the voters in a quite unprecedented way.

The way is open for Labour to take the lead as the main opposition and repeat the recent lessons of Fine Gael.

They would then become the alternative government and that would result in a substantial rise in seats for them at the next election.

Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, their top leaders will do their best to get into government with people they consistently criticised and attacked throughout the election campaign -- and together the two parties would make the same mess of things as most coalitions have done.

I hope that Enda Kenny and his exceptional team, with their unprecedented asset of electoral achievement, will recognise the wisdom of this counsel and stick to the principles on which they fought the election.

If they blunder into the confusion of coalition they will lose the edge of their appeal and fail in the many massive tasks that lie ahead.