Expecting to be facing the next few years as the opposition, the incumbent Irish government now finds itself back in favour following a performance that has so far, shown them to be the right administration for the current Covid-19 crisis. but how long will the positivity last? Ken Sweeney discusses.
It is truly incredible how fate can deal a hand to us all. One minute you can be content with an outcome, then suddenly, you are thrown back into a situation that you never expected to be in.
That is exactly where the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar along with his entire party and ministers find themselves now following the wake of the crisis that has befallen the continent of Europe in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak. The crisis has left Fine Gael still in government despite the fact that they finished a definitive third in the general election results last February. Yet here we are, mid April, in an international crisis that has never been seen in our generation and in Ireland the political status quo has remained. It may seem like eons ago that following the final election results tally the outgoing Taoiseach was very content both in his mannerisms and interviews to accept the position of opposition for his party.
No clear decision
After all, centre right Fine Gael had served in government for over ten years, but the trouble was that change came in three national options with opposition parties, rival centre party Fianna Fáil and left wing Sinn Féin ending up with an almost equal amount of seats to Fine Gael in the Irish parliament (Dáil). And in the weeks that followed, argument and bluster stepped in as nobody could decide on whom they should team up with and form a government. So according to constitutional protocol, the existing ministry has continued in a caretaker fashion but the question is, what has the current crisis now presented itself for Varadkar and Fine Gael? And indeed, if there was another election, which by the way is not entirely impossible, could the government be brought back into power on their current performance?
There was absolutely no doubt that the general election in February indicated that people wanted change. There wasn’t sufficient numbers for an outright winner, nevertheless, the clear message was that Fine Gael wasn’t the first choice for a majority of voters. Now however, the feeling across the country is that there needs to be stability and any idea of a government shuffle is now clearly not on the cards. At the moment, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are talking to each other about a coalition and indeed, it is looking very likely that a team up of Ireland’s largest two political parties will happen, but it is very much in the background overall.
So we are almost at a point where we have a wartime style government and it is indeed popular with the masses, because it is genuinely doing a good job, given the circumstances. It has introduced measures for fast tracking of financial packages for those left out of work and businesses struggling to stay afloat. There has been a quick response to implementing health measures and a full adoption of WHO guidelines including a strong emphasis on testing. All measures which are welcome by the general public. The question is though, as with many wartime governments, are they deemed obsolete once peace has descended on us? It will also be interesting to see how the public image of the current government will be in two months’ time if the measures don’t make a difference and the situation deteriorates. The measures in place to keep exposure of the virus down has been successfully adopted by the people but with the death toll past 334 people and a total figure of over 95000 cases of coronavirus identified, the mood of the people could change if the curve is not flattened.
It is of course, very early days and no one knows just how this crisis will pan out, but as it stands, it is probably good fate that we have our existing government still in place to face such an enormous task as the COVID-19 outbreak. As talented and experienced as the members of the other parties would be, asking them to step in and take over the current systems at this point would probably have been near to impossible. Only a tiny minority of the opposition has previously served in government and that was over ten years ago. And while it is very true that modern democratic government departments practically run themselves nowadays, it still would be vital for ministers and a new Taoiseach to be able to make decisions based on experience and familiarity.
Whatever the next few weeks or months hold for Ireland, we have had a lucky break in that our government, the outgoing one, didn’t leave when it should have and this may be one of the crucial elements in Ireland that will enable us to come through this crisis in better shape than many other states.
Familiarity breeds contempt is what they say, but in this case it may be our trump card.