As the dust settles on Election 2016, we have a political landscape unlike any seen since the 1950s. The days of the two and a half party system ended in 2011, but further fragmentation of the political landscape sees seven parties and a large number of Independents occupy the 32nd Dáil.
Insider believes this is the way things are going to be for the foreseeable future, and those elected will just have to get used to it. It will make government formation more difficult, but the sooner the political system adapts to the new dispensation, where a number of parties will be required to form a government, the better.
Insider expects us to go through a period of change over the next two/three elections, where governments struggle to survive a full term, before we settle into a model where a minimum of three parties will be required for government formation. The parties can either adapt to the new reality now, where compromise is the name of the game, or prepare for a second GE2016.
No-one has got a mandate to govern in the traditional sense, but all elected TDs have a mandate to form a government. Insider believes government formation is going to be very difficult, and does not expect any white smoke before May. Indeed, the TDs may sleepwalk into an early summer election.
FG had a very disappointing election result. Its total of 50 seats masked its true performance; 40 seats would have been a fairer reflection of its total vote. The party must be shell shocked, as its achievements, highlighted by the economic turnaround have gone unrewarded.
Insider believes there are a number of reasons for this; a lack of empathy with those for whom economic circumstances did not improve; FG's failure to fully articulate their achievements; senior figures allowing the debate to move too easily into areas where their performance was not as impressive as the macro economic indicators would suggest. If an election is being fought on the battleground of health services, water charges, and homelessness, then the Government is on a loser. Unfortunately for FG, these were among the main issues voters' minds were on when they cast their vote.
Insider is very surprised at the failure of Taoiseach Enda Kenny to resign as FG leader after such an electoral drubbing. Insider is also surprised at the lack of dissent from the Fine Gael front bench and parliamentary party, calling for the Taoiseach to resign. He put a proposition to the Irish people, which was clearly rejected. His performance during the campaign did nothing to help his party's fortunes, and Insider cannot think of any FG leader who would attempt to cling to power in similar circumstances. If by some stroke of luck, he is re-elected Taoiseach, Insider believes he will become the most unpopular holder of that office for many years. He should go now with dignity, leaving a record of economic achievement of which he can be proud.
Looking at Galway West, Hildegarde Naughton's success came as a surprise to many, but not to Insider. Indeed, Insider found the 6/1 available with Paddy Power too good to resist. Insider hopes she can impress on the national stage. The challenge ahead may be more difficult than she anticipates, and she will need to perform very well as FG could be under even more pressure in the next election, especially if they end up as part of the Government.
For FF nationally, the election was a success; for leader Micheál Martin, particularly so. This is not because it had a great result compared to previous elections, but the party significantly reversed the 2011 result, and that was the first priority. Relief that the party is back in the game is the overriding emotion of Insiders' FF friends, but FF needs to be careful, the tide of 2011 has been reversed, but in its subsequent celebrations Insider noted a touch of the previous smugness rearing its ugly head again. More humility will be required. However, Martin's position as leader is strengthened, and he should now promote some of his more impressive TDs as Fianna Fail nua. With Darragh O'Brien, Michael McGrath and Dara Calleary, among others, he can take the fight not only to see off Sinn Féin, but to replace FG as the largest Dáil party.
Eamon Ó Cuív was always going to be re-elected and Insider hopes Dep Ó Cuív remains a prominent member of the FF front bench, and goes along with party strategy for the formation of the next government. This is not a time to be dissenting from the path he chooses in light of the election result.
John Connolly polled very well, and can look forward to being a realistic contender for the next election. If FF is in the running for two seats, as it may well be next time round, he is certainly in poll position to accompany Dep Ó Cuív to the Dail. It is too early yet for the jockeying for position once Dep Ó Cuív decides to call it a day, but all the younger FF hopefuls will have one eye on the next election, and maybe two eyes on the election after that.
Labour will come back from its bitterly disappointing result. For the party nationally, it could not have been much worse. Assailed from all sides, Labour struggled to get a hearing for their undoubted achievements in office. History will be much kinder to it for it participation in this Government, and the economic turnaround it helped oversee. That is not much consolation as the party sees a lot of fine TDs swept away.
Labour must now be brave and appoint a young leader who will go toe to toe with Sinn Féin and some of the more extreme left wing parties. Insider will remember Election 2016 as generating a lot of noise and aggression, much of it directed, unfairly, at Labour. Indeed the Jobstown incident where the Tánaiste was detained in her car, was a forerunner to much of the vitriol directed at Labour. That incident, and others like it, were a disgrace and need to be called such. Insider was disappointed to see Derek Nolan lose out. When the tide goes out for your party, it is almost impossible for individuals like Derek to buck the trend. In the circumstances, his was a respectable showing and Insider hopes Derek sticks with Labour and Labour stick with Derek.
It is unusual that when a party gains nine seats, and a significant increase in its vote share, the result can still be deemed disappointing. Insider believes SF will be bitterly disappointed with its showing. At a national vote of under 14 per cent, its performance was lower than in the 2011 presidential election and the 2014 Local Election. Has SF peaked? Insider believes that, under the present Northern dominated leadership, they have. Micheál Martin was deemed to have done well in the leaders' debates, but Insider puts this down to the 'competition' more than any great ability on Martin's part. Gerry Adams cost Sinn Fein significantly during the campaign, and there must be murmurings in SF's disciplined ranks. Insider believes that until the SF leadership fully disassociates itself from the IRA's terrorist campaign, it will struggle to widen its appeal. A Northern dominated party leadership which clearly holds the Republic in contempt really has no business lecturing us on how to run our affairs.
This backdrop is a hindrance to good local candidates like Sen Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, who Insider believes was set to win a seat when the election was called. He, and other party colleagues, must ask themselves why their opinion poll support of circa 18 per cent dropped to less than 14 by voting day. They hardly need Insider to tell them.
Independents and others
Election 2016 was very good for Independent candidates. Whether any of them will form part of the next administration is hard to predict, but looks unlikely. If FG and FF come together to provide a government, then Independents will struggle to make an impact, and may suffer in subsequent elections. Noel Grealish did very well in the election, coming a clear second behind Dep O'Cuiv. Managing to maintain his 'all things to all men' persona, he was well placed to take advantage of the national rise in support for Independents. Catherine Connolly also made it this time, and did not need a long count similar to 2011 to see her home. She has put in many years of hard work, and Insider, along with many others, feel she is now reaping her just reward. Similar to Dep Grealish, how the numbers play out in the formation of the next government, will have a significant bearing on her impact in the Dáil. No doubt, she will use her new platform to raise issues of concern to her here in Galway.
Nationally, the Green Party are back with two seats after the 2011 wipeout. The Social Democrats returned with its three outgoing TDs; The Anti Austerity Alliance/PBP has returned six TDs. Renua lost all three of its outgoing TDs, and will have no member of the 32nd Dail.
From the local results, Niall Ó Tuathail (SD ) put in a very credible performance, and in the normal course of events, Insider would advise him to work towards a seat on the city council in preparation for the next general election. However, Insider believes that the next general election will be held before the next local elections, so the usual strategy may not work in this scenario. The next local elections are the most suitable target for Nicola Daveron (Renua ) and Tommy Holohan (AAA ), and would appear a more realistic option before another attempt at a Dáil seat.