Don't be fooled, for nothing will really change
The carnage of Fianna Fáil will be the only interesting facet of the election results next weekend. Maybe along with the disappointment of Labour – a Fine Gael government without them and little chance ever of ministerial preferment for the Labour wise owls, writes Vincent Browne.
For it is certain it will be a Fine Gael-led government at least, maybe just a Fine Gael government. Although the Fine Gael wise owls may want to copperfasten their tenure in office by bringing disappointed Labour with them, to be sure, to be sure. A majority of 50 seats could do that for them. The prospect of five years of uninterrupted office, the longest stint ever for Fine Gael in government, and with only a minor irritation from Labour.
If Fine Gael gets twice the seats Labour gets – and that is very much on the cards – the cabinet distribution will have to be 2:1. Labour getting five seats, Fine Gael ten. Labour getting none of the plum jobs, certainly not Finance. Gilmore for Taoiseach? Seems a bit pathetic now, doesn't it?
A programme for government wouldn't be too much of a bother, in spite of the wrangling pre-election. Both Fine Gael and Labour are conviction-light and neither will have any problem with compromise, although Labour will have to do most of the compromising. Still no problem. A bit of strutting perhaps and cosmetic victories here and there for Labour, but nothing to worry the Fine Gael heartlands.
The universal social charge will remain, probably not even tweaked. More social welfare cuts. A property tax on the sly via starving local councils of cash and giving them the option of a property tax. A deeper fiscal deficit than expected and more cuts and more cuts.
Six months into office, they will be the worst government ever, certainly since the previous one. The austerity cuts in December for Budget 2012 will be horrendous. Labour will cave in. In the longer run, Labour will probably do itself in, perhaps not as comprehensively as Fianna Fáil will do on Friday and certainly not as thoroughly as the Greens will do on Friday. But serious damage, trailing Sinn Féin in the following election and maybe trailing a Left Alliance as well.
Eamon Gilmore may get a seat on the government jet to the European Council meeting on 25/26 March but it will be Enda who will attend the meeting and the dinner. There will be no significant relief of the massive bank debt and Enda and Eamon don't have the bottle to go to the edge with the big boys of Europe. Yes there will be face-saving crumbs, but no more.
Frankfurt's way or Labour's way? Frankfurt's way.
The Fianna Fáil carnage will be wondrous to see. No seats in handfuls of constituencies. Two seats in few, aside from Louth where they are assured one with the outgoing Ceann Comhairle, Seamus Kirk. Cabinet ministers falling all over the place. Already forgotten, but not gone – yet. A prize for anyone who can tell us who is the Minister for Transport, or the Minister for Health, or the Minister for Foreign Affairs, or Communications Energy and Natural Resources, or Community Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, or Justice, or Defence. Do the Ministers who hold these briefs know they do? What a laugh. Does it make any difference?
Maybe down to fewer than 20 seats. Micheál Martin said on Thursday night he didn't want to be pushed on the minimum number of TDs Fianna Fáil would need to make a significant contribution to the next Dáil. He said even a few TDs could make their mark. Three? Two? One?
It won't be that bad, but it will be very very bad. We will be wondering what the seat count would have been had Brian Cowen's face been on the posters. We will be wondering whether Fianna Fáil has gone the way of the other party that was dominant for a long stretch in Irish politics, the Ulster Unionist Party – does anybody (italics) on the island of Ireland know who the leader of that party is now, aside, possibly, from the man himself (for you can be sure it is a man)?
Sinn Féin will emerge as one of the winners of the election, even though Labour will have increased its representation much more, but Labour won't be perceived as a winner. Gerry Adams as leader of the Opposition, unlikely, but close enough. The dominant figures in the next Dáil will be Pearse Doherty and Joe Higgins and together they will give Labour some roasting. That is if the Dáil lasts. For we could run out of money later this year or maybe next year.
This election is not historic, aside from the carnage of Fianna Fáil. The next election will be the big one. That may see the carnage of the other establishment parties as well. If so, there will be some hope for change. If people are mobilised to make change happen.