Dan Boyle: The Magic Roundabout


President of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald arriving at the General Election 2020 count centre in the RDS, Dublin 4, last Sunday; Dan Boyle

The only thing that can be said about the current situation with Irish politics is that the normal laws of political physics no longer apply.

The fall in support for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is part of an ongoing and continuing trend. The speed and depth to which that happens will depend on how each party responds to its current status.

At the start of the campaign Sinn Féin’s strategy would have been to hold on to as many of the Dáil seats it had won in 2016, thus the relatively low number of candidates that were put forward by the party.

We have seen a level of volatility never seen before in an Irish general election. We had been given some indication of this in the presidential election in 2017. Peter Casey rose from an opinion poll rating of 1% to an eventual 23% achieved vote, gained over a seven to ten day period.

That though was a free hit. It gave a means to protest helped with the knowledge that it would not affect the eventual result. The volatility in this general election has been informed by something different. This time a desire for change is as much about a change of approach as it is about a change of personnel.

The issue of housing, particularly for younger and first time voters, has been the issue that has provided the trigger that has informed this desire for change.

Kudos should be given to Eoin Ó Broin as Sinn Féin spokesperson on the issue. He helped win considerable support from the electorate, whose confidence in a strictly market led approach had evidentially evaporated.

So can a government be formed with the arithmetic the electorate has given us? It ain’t going to be easy.

What isn’t likely to work is any kind of confidence and supply arrangement. There can’t be an us and them situation where in opposition you can’t criticise what they do, because it has been enabled by us.

Nor is there likely to be any coalition of the left. This is because there are some on the left who don’t want to be anywhere near government.

This for them is an article of faith. You can’t be the vanguard for a class revolution when you become a mudguard for the establishment.

There could, and may yet be, a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition that would need the support of up to ten independents. It is not an impossibility.

Eyes may be fluttered towards The Greens and or Labour/Social Democrats to bring about a more stable government. It is hard to see any progressive party agreeing to such an arrangement, with the two traditional parties that have been so roundly rejected by the voters.

The only other possible government would be Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin with a third and possibly fourth party.

There’s no guarantee that this will happen. There are many factors conspiring against it happening.

Fianna Fáil will continue to struggle with the knowledge that old certainties no longer exist.

The new reality is that the result of the election is that Sinn Féin should be in government. The party has earned the right to be in government. That right is now greater than the right of either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

To secure government Sinn Féin itself needs to compromise. Its hunger for office means it is likely to engage. Whether others are prepared to compromise will determine whether a new government can come into being or not.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


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51 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: The Magic Roundabout

  1. class wario

    I wonder if FF/FG have shown their hand too early here. They’ve tried to push the narrative that SF have to form a left wing government with all the poltiical subtlety of a kick to the nads. I think a lot of people will see right through the desperation to be on the opposition benches by both.

    1. dav

      perhaps, I also like to think they are in shock, they both performed poorly and are readying their knives to shaft their respective leaders

    2. Barry the Hatchet

      My favourite thing about the aftermath of this election has been FF/FG, in their eagerness to abdicate responsibility for forming a government, competing with each other to see which one of them failed more abysmally at this election. “We lost the election” “No, WE lost the election!” “But we’re the smallest party!” “We’re both very small, we’re basically tied!” “Well we had our worst election ever so we don’t have a mandate!” “Well it was our second worst election and we haven’t had a mandate in years!” It’s been glorious to listen to.

      1. class wario

        Can you imagine if SF did this? All the usual guff about how they’re “perennial opposition” and “don’t want to have to make decisions” would be out in force. The same people are very quiet now as SF go about trying to form a government and the ‘main’ two are locked in this ‘Don’t look at me!’ one-upmanship

    3. Hansel

      I find this narrative very strange.

      SF undoubtedly had the largest first-preference vote and largest single-party mandate from the election just passed. But something something FF’s/FG’s fault.

      Lads, it’s time to walk the walk now.
      You’re not in opposition: it’s senior hurling time.

      1. class wario

        What narrative? SF are contacting other parties with a view to forming government. They are doing the very thing everybody is accusing them of not wanting to do or needing to get on with doing. But ultimately, no government will be sustainable if the two major parties on the opposition bench can just shoot everything they propose. The numbers aren’t there. You know this, I know this, the parties know this. FF/FG just smugly going “lol it’s nothing to do with us, best of luck with it!” is just another bit of politcking from them. It’s a very obvious attempt at trying to position themselves as sensible and the best option when SF are inevitably unable to form a left wing government without either, as great as that would be. I think a lot of people will see through that.

        1. Hansel

          I don’t read that at all.
          I see FF/FG as playing “politics”: The same thing they’ve been doing for decades…The idea that they’d jump in with two feet first to enable their political rivals seems naive to me.

          The SF party understand this very well, and they too are playing “politics”. That’s why we now have a narrative of “FF and FG are stopping the public from getting a SF government” and also “FF and FG are forcing SF into government”. This is the narrative I find “strange” – there’s no consensus on which angle they’re playing! The only thing that they’re sure of is “we won so we’re the losers”. But I just don’t think that will wash. It doesn’t wash with me anyway, I just think “do your job and stop moaning”.

          SF promised a lot of stuff and won a large percentage of first-preference votes. If I was a centre-right political party I’d be tempted to do exactly what FF and FG are doing: “you wanted us out, now we’re out. Who are you going to blame now?”.

          1. class wario

            Agreed. FF and FG should let them form a minority government and support/abstain from all policy votes for 12-24 months to give SF a fair crack of it, such is their commitment to total non-involvement.

          2. Hansel

            I don’t know of any government where the opposition abstained from votes for “12-24 months”.
            Again, this sounds extraordinarily naive.

            It doesn’t matter what you WANT to happen. Your political rivals are all against you. Much as it makes me squirm, even Verona Murphy will get a vote in the Dáil.

            SF didn’t get their single-party majority. If they want to get into government, they’re going to have to woo a few people. I don’t think that’s impossible, it’s just going to take a lot of negotiating and they’re probably not going to get to implement their desired policies in full.

            Same as it ever was.
            I don’t think that’s “unfair on SF” at all.

        2. Barry the Hatchet

          Spot on. Thomas Byrne was on Claire Byrne the other night insisting that Sinn Fein have the numbers to form a government without FF/FG. John Lahart was on the Late Debate shouting over everyone to insist there’s a way to form a government without FF or FG (or confidence & supply), but refusing to enlighten us as to how. It’s utter bollix. FF/FG know it. Everyone knows it. The people refusing to step up to the plate here are FF and FG. They both drew too many red lines during the election and now they’re stuck.

          1. Hansel

            I don’t think there’s any way to form a stable government with the results of the election FULL STOP.
            FF and FG saw this and basically stood back allowing SF “just enough rope”.
            I think SF saw this way too late in the day – and who can blame them, as the result was a big surprise – and they are now doing the “we’re being blocked from forming a government” routine.

            Unfortunately for them they’re the big boys and girls in the classroom now: they either aim to form a government or aim to shout from the sidelines. But it’s no longer enough to say “we can’t get into government”. They have the votes and nobody is going to just gift it to them.

            This isn’t just “unfair on SF”.
            The greens, labour and PD’s all recently went through this soul-searching process, and FF did also to a lesser extent.

          2. Barry the Hatchet

            Hansel, you’re coming across as a bit ridiculous here. On the one hand you’re saying it’s not possible to form a stable government and on the other you’re saying SF need to get onto the pitch and form a government. You can’t have it both ways.

            On the numbers, of course there’s a way to form a reasonably stable government. The problem is that it will require input from one or both of FF/FG, and both FF and FG have ruled out going into coalition with (a) eachother and (b) SF.

            So when are FF/FG going to stop taking pot-shots at SF, shirking the responsibility their 38/35 seats have placed on them, and get onto the pitch?

          3. Otis Blue

            Remember that SF have plenty of red lines too. No matter how well they expected to do they – as was the case for FF and FG – were never going to achieve a majority. Thus, compromise was always going to be needed. SF indulged in the fantasy just as well as FFG and now the chickens are coming home to roost. Anyone hazard a guess as to what they’ll drop from their manifesto?

            For me the critical issue is an effective and credible programme for Government that delivers to its citizenry. The composition of that Government for me is a secondary concern.

          4. Hansel

            We’re at cross-purposes I’d say Barry.
            I don’t think it’s possible to form a stable government. But SF need to get onto the pitch and try to form that unstable government, reach their conclusions and either come back and say either “we aren’t willing to compromise so we’re bowing out of the attempt” or “we’re going to compromise on a bunch of stuff for the sake of a shaky flaky government”. I expect them to bow out, but try and make it look like they were pushed out.

            I don’t think that a FF/FG government will be acceptable to the electorate. Jamming Labour or Green Party into that won’t fix it: it’ll be inherently unstable because it failed at the last election. So they have to try something else and they’ll collapse at the soonest opportunity.

            “So when are FF/FG going to stop taking pot-shots at SF, shirking the responsibility their 38/35 seats have placed on them, and get onto the pitch?”
            I don’t think they’ll stop taking pot shots. How do SF get FF/FG onto the pitch, is the next question. I’m not sure the “abdicating responsibility” line is a good one: you’re effectively giving them their mandate back.

            “Calling on FF to recognise that they need to change their ways and join us” might work.
            One thing’s for sure: SF have some of the best negotiators around.

  2. Dr.Fart

    if FF and FG come together to keep out Sinn Fein it’s yet another display of their arrogance of believing they know better than everyone. Because the country has very clearly said it wants Sinn Fein. FG in particular would have no issue with ignoring the populations wishes, business as usual.

    1. Rob_G

      The country hasn’t clearly said that it wants anyone, that’s the problem.

      If there was an FG/FF coalition, that would represent almost 50% of first preferences – how would that be ‘ignoring the population’s wishes’, as opposed to a government led by SF (25% of 1st preferences)?

      1. Dr.Fart

        every area that had an SF candidate was heavily dominated by that SF candidate. If they had more candidates they would’ve blown FFFG out of the water completely and there’d be no haggling with who partners with who. They’d have clearly won it outright. This is clear for everyone to see.

        1. Rob_G

          “They’d have clearly won it outright. “

          I don’t think you understand what “25% of first preferences” means…

          1. Dr.Fart

            nah im not doing this. repeating myself over n over with you blinkered, not taking anything in, just listening to your own voice. they dominated every heat they had a candidate in. good luck, rob. im not coming back to check on replies so talk to yourself.

        2. Cian

          No they didn’t “dominate”.
          SF had 24.5% of first preferences, FF had 22.2 and FG had 20.9%.

          SF (mostly) had one candidate who got the full 25% of first preferences (and in a 4 or 5-seater that gets you straight in). FF and FG has 2-3 candidates per constituency so their candidates got ~10% each and so didn’t get elected until knocking the other out and getting their transfers.

          SF didn’t get any seats in 6 constituencies (15%).

          Only Dessie Ellis in Dublin North-West (44%) (possibly Mary Lou in Dublin Central with (35%)) could have brought a guaranteed second SF candidate through.

          1. Barry the Hatchet

            That’s not right at all Cian, There are a number of other SF candidates who would have been guaranteed to bring in a running mate. Off the top of my head, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, David Cullinane, and Sean Crowe. There are a few others who would have been pretty safe bets too.

          2. Cian

            Sorry Barry – you’re right, I missed those two.

            But that only brings another 4 TDs – it pushes them to 41 TDs…. it doesn’t break the deadlock or make it a “domination”.

            The other parties could learn from the 2020 election and run fewer candidates – both FF and FG split their vote and missed out on seats.

  3. RuilleBuille

    The establishment parties -FG/FF/Lab – are blocking SF from government. It won’t end well for them.

    1. Hansel

      They’re also apparently doing the opposite by saying “SF should be in government” and they are getting lambasted for that too.

      What on earth is going on with the SF “béal bocht” machine. Ye won lads, own the victory and move on.

      There is no “blame” to be apportioned, just have a cut off putting something together. It doesn’t always have to be “the poor downtrodden SF”.

      1. Rob_G


        Also, a very stupid idea to suggest that Labour, on 6 seats, are blocking anyone from doing anything.

        1. Hansel

          “Very telling”: what are you talking about? Do you think I’m in some way politically aligned? Who do you think I voted for? I’ll give you a clue: not FF and not FG. My vote is a floating vote, I’ve changed regularly from election to election. This isn’t some kind of conspiracy.

          Can you try to give me a direct answer: WHAT ARE FF/FG DOING THAT YOU ARE UNHAPPY WITH?
          Are they preventing SF from forming a government or forcing SF to form a government? It can’t be all just bloody “FF/FG stole my dinner”.

          1. class wario

            I should clarify that I was replying to your post alone here and that “exactly that” was in reference to SF having a go off forming a government.

          2. Hansel

            Apologies Class Wario I thought you were saying “FF/FG are doing exactly that”.
            Feel free to ignore the rest of my post as a result (you probably did already!).

  4. Cian

    The new reality is that the result of the election is that Sinn Féin should be in government. The party has earned the right to be in government.

    How has a party with 25% support “earned the right to be in government”?

    1. Hansel

      SF had the largest first-preference vote and largest single-party mandate from the election just passed.

      They’ve earned as much right as FF and FG to be in government, and more than either of those two individually, right?

      1. Dr.Fart

        cian and rob_g are staunch FGers. It’s pointless to paint out facts for them, they’ll resort to the classic FG tactic of straight up lying.

      2. Rob_G

        I think Cian is suggesting that they certainly have the right to have a go at forming a coalition, but that a party with 25% of first preferences doesn’t have the ‘right’ to be in government. I don’t think a party with less than 50% of first preferences could claim to have ‘the right’ to be in government.

        1. Hansel

          Fair enough, but I felt that might be semantics. They’ve as much right as anyone else might be a better way of phrasing it from Dan.

          25% of first preferences is a significant block of voters.

          I don’t see how a government formed without SF would be a good idea. I’d say a lot of people would be disenfranchised by another FF/FG coalition. They seem to have voted for change, and voted for SF to be the rough direction of that change.

          1. A Person

            And the Belfast 6 are back. We won, we deserve to be in govt. Listen lads (always lads), go form a govt. That’s what is having to make decisions is like. Nobody is blocking you, go to it. You didn’t do in NI for 3 years. Lead for once. Sick to death of hurlers on the ditch.

          2. Cian

            agreed – they have as much right as the other two – in fact slightly more.

            But with the support of only 1 in 4 voters they have no “right” to be in government.

          3. A Person

            Ah no , they won’t reply to any constructive comments. Get off the ditch, and hurl. Fart, Goo, dav, get permission from the bearded ones to reply.

  5. Pat O Kelly

    SF have 23% of the seats having won 25% of the 1st pref votes
    Those numbers don’t give them ” the right to be in government” but rather the right to try to be in government
    The people elect the TDs but it is the TDs who elect the Taoiseach /government
    TDs have an individual vote of equal value in all Dail business

  6. Truth in the News

    The faster Fine Gael and Fianna Fail form a Government the better and in
    the process fire Varadkar and Martin, it was their leadership that lost them
    votes and seats, if there is another election they are gone, the Shinners
    “haven’t gone away” to borrow a phrase and never will, whats amazing is
    that the wheel has turned the full circle…… it took a hundred years

  7. Hector Ramirez

    All this blaming of FF and FG for the possible non coalition. Mary Lou was happy to call out the other two leaders who said they would not go in with SF. By saying ‘adults would talk to everyone’, while also saying SF wants to govern, preferably without FF and FG.
    Looks like Bart simpsons old phrase ‘it wasnt me’ will be getting serious road in the next few weeksz

  8. V

    Ah I dunno Dan – and I’m kinda struggling with normal laws of political physics
    And staying polite about it

    Like, you’re a published writer, and to me anyway, also an historian of past Elections and Dáil Maths over the years, and you know I respect you enormously; but I just can’t ignore you trying to explain away the weekend’s results like you’ve just done there.

    I’m sorry to say this but you are completely out of touch with the Irish Voter.
    normal laws of political physics is elitist ex Minister ex Senator hyperbole Dan; And you’re better than that.

    It was Democracy. That’s all. There is no need to try and go over our heads with talk of a science that most of us never heard of.

    Nothing changed about how we went about casting our votes or to how they were counted. NOTHING.
    Nothing changed about who qualified to vote. NOTHING
    It was still a pencil, and paper, and basic counting up 1 2 3 after another
    No algorithms or engineering : just all Simple sums.

    The fall in support for FF & FG is not a trend, and has been slow moving over decades.
    Firstly, its an outcome of evolution over the generations that once lived in a very simple political environment, are you a Fianna Fail or a Fine Gael house. It was a decider by the people, that was of its time. Shur’ didn’t you grow up in one yourself, and grew out of it into the Greens.
    Not to mention the tens of 1,000s of new voters that have no connections to the Civil War and never even knew it was a thing one time.

    Secondly, you have the growth of genuine alternatives for the Voter who has opted to use their Vote for Policies not Politics; Yourselves in the Greens for instance, Social Democrates, Richard Boyd Barrett’s PBP, and the raging obvious, Mary Lou’s Sinn Fein.

    Last weekend’s result shouldn’t have been a shock to anyone – least of all a Political Brain like you Dan.
    And Peter Casey’s Shock presidential result that was – as you pointed out yourself, off a rapidly rising finishing stretch, is a very poor example, since it wasn’t repeated in any of the constituencies he has since entered.
    But also because his Presidential outcome is better explained by how the Voter now gets the information they need to make a decision; Social Media and the Internet. Not the National Print Media, or the Debates or the National Broadcaster.
    Which should also help you identify why Sinn Fein did so well attracting the voter in GE2020 Their SM/ and Online Campaigning was well organised and well planned, because they knew from back in GE2016 they wouldn’t be getting a bit from the Main State Stream Media
    Its also worth reminding everyone, that every voter in Áras’18 had the comfort of already knowing for sure that Michael D was never going to be bate. So there is noting at all to learned from that election result.

    You’re a good few years off from getting away with a Desire for Change being the reason for Sinn Fein’s success Dan
    We’ve had landslide Referendums here in the term of the last Government that proved we were already a changed society.

    Two things are the principal causes for FF/FG’s losses and the Shinners gains
    the Last Government was the worst in the history of the State, that’s all on Leo and FG, and on FF for supplying the confidence votes. So of course they were going to get punished by an electorate that took an anything but FF FG route with their polling booth pencil.

    The other is that the Sinn Fein front bench in the last Dáil out preformed them all, and the voters saw that.
    Cullinane did a terrible thing by reintroducing the chucky mentality to the Sinn Fein parliamentary party alright, but people voted for them because Eoin, Pearse, Louise and above all Mary Lou are a far better option than anything else on offer.

    People throughout all the Constituencies voted for that. Substance. Policies not Politics.

    And in all fairness the Greens have more a few seats to thank Sinn Fein for. So at least give them the credit they are due and don’t blame trends or physics or anything else you can grab a hold off.

    1. Cian

      Sorry V I can’t let this slide.
      “the Last Government was the worst in the history of the State”? Seriously? A government that stabilised the economy. A government that repealed the 8th? A government that unwound all the austerity taxes?

      Sure, they messed up housing, and high rents absorbs all the economic benefits that they achieved. Sure, the health service is shaky (but I’m not sure it is fixable). But a blanked “worst” is grossly unfair and (IMO) untrue.

      1. V

        It absolutely was
        Leo attempted to lead by PR, advertorials, smart botty putdowns and quirky tweets
        Absolutely no way was Eoghan Murphy or Regina Doherty Ministerial material
        And well you know it

        Admitedly Paschal Donohue held his own
        But he was absolutely not responsible for the strong economy

        Rural Broadband
        The Dept of Justice McCabe emails
        All in the hands of this Government
        If we want to go to housing well then there was nothing stopping ye reversing the decision to centralise Social Housing and give it back to the Local Authorities – ye found the money for HAP marah’yeah – so ye could have found it for the Local Authorities
        Or what about reversing the decision to introduce Vultures or guaranteeing their losses and protecting their profits?

        Ah go way. The HSE employs over 60,000 people and was in the charge of a Minister with zero experience or large budget experience.

        A Cabinet (in the main) who behaved like teenage Influencers, and used Advertorials and popular votes to hide their real performances.

        Ah go way Cian – and watching you try and sell the results of the Marriage Equality & the Repeal Referendums as Fine Gael led success’ is pathetic

        And frankly insulting to many many people who wouldn’t even open the door to a FGer
        Those battles go back years, one of them decades
        And Fine Gael were nowhere to seen in all but the last 12 months of each of those Referendums

    2. Dan Boyle

      Not true. Outside of Sinn Féin and The Greens EVERY other political party recorded a lower vote when compared with 2016. Sinn Féin didn’t expect this vote. I’m not arguing against votes changing hands that should and has happened. What has happened in this election is qualitatively different to 2011. Then voters turned to a different version of FF.

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