Derek Mooney: Mandate Is Not Another Word For Majority


From top:  Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald and Deputy Party leader Michelle O Neill speaking to the media on the Plinth at Leinster House last week; Derek Mooney

Mandate, mandate, mandate. You couldn’t switch on a radio or open a webpage last week without someone talking at you about their mandate.

You had this one talking about the size and significance of their mandate and that one saying how much they respected and acknowledged other people’s, though usually just before they explained why they were going to ignore it.

Mandate has become the most abused word of the post #GE2020 era. So, what is a mandate? Well, put simply, it is just the authority given by voters to each elected TD.

Sinn Féin’s mandate is the collective total of its 37 TD’s individual mandates, just in the same way as Fianna Fáil’s is based on its 38 TDs and Aontu’s is due to its one.

No TDs mandate is inferior or superior, a point that seems lost in many of Sinn Féin’s pronouncements. It uses the word mandate as if it was a synonym for majority. It isn’t.

Over the past week we have heard SF talk about how Fine Gael and especially Fianna Fáil needs to heed Sinn Féin’s mandate as if this was a winner-takes-all where the one with the highest votes ignores all the others.

Sinn Féin may not take its seats in Westminster, but all that time hanging about the palace of first-past-the-post while avoiding the chamber, seems to have had an influence.

Yes, Sinn Féin won most votes and yes, the electoral strategy they adopted has left them one seat behind Fianna Fáil, but that does not mean Fianna Fáil TDs, to borrow a phrase I used last week, must embrace it or swear an oath to implement it.

Every TD and every party has a mandate, the issue is that no one party, or group of parties, received a clear or overwhelming mandate. There are several distinct sets of mandates that are individually clear, but collectively ambiguous and even contradictory.

What matters is which party or group of parties and others can put together a program for government that has the allegiance and support of 80 TDs.

In less fraught and complex times that was a relatively straightforward process. One side would be closer to having half of the seats. All it had to do was approach smaller parties to agree a platform and together get to the magic 50% figure, be that 72, 74, 82 seats etc.

But these are different times. The electorate gave a sign through its swing to both Sinn Féin and the Greens and its continued support of Fianna Fáil (as I outlined last week) that it wants change. The problem comes when you try to discern just how far that change should go.

It’s a confusion that exists even within Sinn Féin, though you never hear it mentioned by its spokespeople. One of the more curious of the RTE/Irish Times exit poll findings was that Sinn Féin voters were less in favour of increasing public spending than even Fine Gael’s [1].

The fact that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together have fewer than half the seats, removes the biggest traditional obstacle to the formation of a coalition of the left and far left, led by Sinn Féin. (Correction, it removes the second biggest traditional obstacle, the biggest being the left’s lack of votes).

Accord to yesterday’s Rec C poll, this is the preferred choice of 61% of Sinn Féin’s voters (and 45% of Soc Dems), yet Sinn Féin appears to have given up on such a prospect and is insisting that Fianna Fáil, who it said it never wanted to see back in government, must ignore the wishes of its voters and prop it up – though only 20% of Sinn Fein voters back this option.

The fact that SF and FF combined only has 75 seats means it needs a mudguard…. Sorry, I mean it needs another party. Step forward the Greens.

But why would or should the Greens be a mudguard for Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil – or even for Fianna Fáil and FG?

While I can possibly see Green delegates seeing some merit in serving in an FF/SF government, I just cannot see them agreeing to put FG ministers back in office.

Perhaps they will conclude that the government will last for five years and their voters will forgive them in time. I am sure Dick Spring thought the same thing in 1992 when he put Albert Reynolds back as Taoiseach.

He may even have thought that again in late 1994 when he backed bringing John Bruton across the floor and making him Taoiseach, but the voters of 1997 had a different idea.

Though diminished, Fianna Fáil’s mandate on government formation has two clear elements. It told voters that it would not put Sinn Féin into government. A position it reaffirmed at its party meeting last Thursday.

It also said that it wanted change and that change for Fianna Fáil meant putting Fine Gael out of government. Though these positions were unambiguous and consistent in advance of polling day, the parliamentary party meeting seems less sure now on this point than it is on the Sinn Féin question.

Does Micheál Martin rule out the prospect of having Fine Gael ministers serve in a Fianna Fáil led coalition? Does he envisage Fine Gael offering a minority Fianna Fáil/Green/Social Democrat government the same Confidence and Supply arrangement that he offered Enda Kenny and then extended to Leo Varadkar?

Does he anticipate Fine Gael honouring such an arrangement with the same fidelity and adherence as him? I doubt we will get answers to these questions before Thursday’s first meeting of the 33rd Dáil.

What we will see is who is elected, by secret ballot, as Ceann Comhairle. While many of his colleagues would be happy to see outgoing one, Fianna Fáil’s Sean Ó Fearghaill, returned to the post, that would cost Martin a vote in the later vote on Taoiseach. At a time when every vote counts, the decision may be less about merit and more an early indicator of what way the wind is blowing.

Will Sinn Féin and Fine Gael TDs together take the opportunity to reduce Martin’s vote by one or will they think they may need that vote for a future partnership?

Will Fianna Fáil TDs abandon their colleague in a secret ballot to keep the vote for Martin?

While on the topic of Fine Gael, the most extraordinary thing about the last few days is just how little focus there has been on what is happening in Fine Gael. It has just suffered its second worst result and yet there has been little to no focus on how it responds.

Though there have been questions raised about Varadkar’s leadership from outside the Oireachtas party, from ex-Senator Paudie Coffey, former deputy leader James Reilly and former Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who tweeted a blistering attack on him yesterday, there has been an eerie silence from within the upper echelons – for now.

Varadkar’s fate as leader lay less in his own hands and more in the hands of Micheál Martin, whose own political fate is uncertain, and those of Simon Coveney and Paschal Donohoe.

Not a happy prospect, especially as only one of these has any reason to hope he stays on – and he’s not the one who is in Leo’s party.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010.  His column appears here every Monday.Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

[1] The Poll asked: If the Next Government Has Resources to Spare, Should More of the Money Be Used to Reduce Taxes or Should More Be Used to Increase Spending on Public Services? People who voted SF #1 went 57% in favour of public spending and 43% in favour of Tax cuts. Fine Gael voters went 59% spending 41% tax cuts, FF voters: 63% spending 37% tax cuts, Soc Dems 71%/27% and S-PBP 81%/19% 

Sam Boal/Rollingnews

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27 thoughts on “Derek Mooney: Mandate Is Not Another Word For Majority

  1. Resmeb

    Cheers for highlighting that exit poll result, which has also been absent in media analysis who want to box it all into a neat left v right dichotomy. Many SF voters don’t align comfortably with the left and that’s not what many were voting on. Populism, innit. I have a hunch that in a different context plenty of their votes could have gone to the populist far right. I know populism is a problematic squiffy term but yes I’m going with it.

    1. Gringo

      I get it now Leo People voted for Sinn Fein because there were no Nazis on the ballots Keep kidding yourself Kid

    2. class wario

      As people have been keen to remind us since the election, SF promised tax cuts for workers under a certain threshold. Not too crazy to suggest that these people couldve mobilised for SF en masse then is it? Nobody would call FG voters misguided or ‘likely to have been convinced to vote left instead’ for supporting public spending as opposed to tax cuts, why do so the other way?

      1. Resmeb

        I don’t think voters were necessarily misguided. I understand why people voted for SF and I’d like to see what they have to offer in government. And I look forward to future politics based on left and right policies and agendas rather than history. And I’d really like to see what a progressive left alliance could do.
        My point is that, as the exit poll reflects, many voters didn’t vote for SF because they wanted left wing policies. They voted for change (fair enough, completely understandable) and I think if that change was successfully packaged by the far right the appeal would be similar.

    3. Joe Small

      I think many people loaned their support for SF on the basis on “change” and “they couldn’t be any worse than the present crowd” and “they’ll fix housing and health”, as opposed to any great endorsement of a new left-wing politics in Ireland. How many even glanced at their manifesto before voting for them? In much the same way, electing FG in 2011 wasn’t an new movement to right-of-centre politics.

  2. Truth in the News

    The result begs the question, why did not FF and FG not fight the Election on a joint
    programme for government and seek a “Mandate” from the Electorate since they
    had a supply and confidence arrangement with the last four years, Fianna Fail
    relied on this strategy in the hope that their previous disastrous tenure in office
    would be forgotten and that their “core traditions” would not be contaminated by
    getting too close to the Blueshirts, the wise electorate has neither forgiven or
    forgotten FF and FG respectively in the way they have run this country with the
    last 20 years, the best bit now is they are stuck with 73 odd seats, and hoping
    to con the Greens into propping them up for next 5 years and to use them as
    fall guys in particular with carbon taxes applied to the most vulnerable sections
    of the Community……has anyone in FF or FG asked themselves why their support
    has halved in a generation , is it not, ,that they are not trusted or believed:

    1. Gringo

      The Fine Failures and the Fine Gaelures are neither trusted or believed but that is not an issue for their puppet masters in IBEC whose only concern is that their gravy train is not derailed. It is imperative that the Shinners do not gets close look at how the greed heads in our so-called republic go about their business. Cartels must keep cartelling.

      1. Portroegirl

        Interesting article in ITs a week ago:’IBEC says Sinn Fein’not mad’when it comes to the economy’!!

  3. RuilleBuille

    So a FF apologist blames everything on SF!

    Almost as laughable as Jim ‘genuinely’ O’Callaghan saying SF would destroy the economy. Remember 2009 Jim?

    1. Gringo

      Soon as we get rid of the history lessons no one will remember 2009 and anyway Jim’s peers were so coked out of their heads they only have a faint memory of buying a dozen apartments in some bog in Cavan off the plans that were built by a geezer whose speciality was driving a dumper.

  4. max

    SF #1 went 57% in favour of public spending and 43% in favour of Tax cuts. Fine Gael voters went 59% spending 41% tax cuts, FF voters: 63% spending 37% tax cuts, Soc Dems 71%/27% and S-PBP 81%/19%

    So SF are the party of tax cuts and reduced spending on social care and housing? Or did their voters just not understand the question?

  5. Stan

    Continued support for FF?
    They dropped nearly 3% on the last GE, and lost a raft of seats.
    Looking forward to further continuing support for FF so…

  6. Truth in the News

    Is it not time that the well concealed influence of IBEC and O’Callaghan;s friends
    down at the Law Library are scrutinised with the same fevour as the imaginary
    Army Council located in Anderstown,,,,,,,no doubt sharp eyed journalists from the
    Dublin media will pursue the issue……?

    1. Gringo

      IBEC are calling the shots here and are deadly serious about keeping the Shinners away from the workings of government plus we have a seriously incompetent and evil civil service, bolstered by a corrupt media who will work tirelessly to preserve the status quo.

      1. A Person

        Are you dav? Everyone is anti shinners, even Joe Duffy…. Is this the new spin? Even you are so good, go form a govt, instead of endless moaning. Btw, IBEC are a lobby group and nothing to do with govt or the civil service. You might want to do more research on the the actual Republic.

  7. Dr.Fart

    unfortunately, we won’t get another chance for a change-up of power until the next GE in 5 years. I don’t think there’ll be a GE before that. I think by then, SF will lose their momentum. The damage that FF/FG will do in that time is unthinkable. Every week there’s been a scandal. Can we really survive another 5 years of destructive “leadership”?

    1. some old queen

      FFG as government against a left opposition is a first- and welcomed. But, given the current level of non nationals arriving into the country from muslim cultures, in five years from now- the elected government may be something else entirely.

          1. some old queen

            Another muslim grooming gang reported in Scotland it appears- that is 27 cities in Britain so far- any opinion on this you would care to share?

    2. Rob_G

      If you really think the FFG government will be that bad, why would SF lose their momentum – surely if they would be that bad, it would do great for SF/a left alternative’s popuularity?

  8. :-Joe

    Yet again, we have more boring, biased, bloated, bile from the backside of another me-hole “montgomery”joker”burns” martin’s amateur pseudo-spin trainee-doctor.

    Anyone remember what happened when both of these two, joker and… ?.. penguin?.. just joke maybe?.. were involved with the establishment in power and control of the country.

    I would say they were “running” the country but F-f/g couldn’t run a bath unless there was a brown envelope or stock options, me-hole was a force for incompetance and corruption, totally useless and should never be elected and mooney couldn’t come up with a clever-spun, less transparent lie to save his life.

    Ahh.. derek, come on.. when are you going to spill the beans about what you and me-hole and the rest of them were getting up to over the years?…

    Eejit’s everywhere running wild all over this island…


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