Many Irish people take great pleasure looking down their noses at Britain and its political tribulations. We aren’t the only ones, I suspect, but I would say we particularly enjoy it because Britain ruled us for so long.
We felt pleased with ourselves because we seemed to handle the outbreak of Covid-19 better than Britain, although in truth we are no great shakes compared with other small, sparsely populated countries.
But in between times, we had a general election of our own on February 8. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Fine Gael party did very badly. They won just 20.9% of the vote, a bit behind the old foe, Fianna Fail, and even more shockingly behind Sinn Fein.
For the first time ever neither Fianna Fail nor Fine Gael were anywhere close to having the required number of seats to allow them to govern with one or maybe two other small parties. Fianna Fail won just 38 seats and Fine Gael 35 in the 160 seat Lower House (the ‘Dail’).
Fianna Fail had explicitly promised in the election that they would not go into coalition with Fine Gael, leaving the electorate with the same choice they have had for decades; either a Fianna Fail-dominated Government, or a Fine Gael-dominated one.
They went into power with Fine Gael anyway. And what is more, we are to have rotating Prime Ministers. Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, will be Taoiseach until December 15, 2022, followed by whoever is Fine Gael leader by then.
In a way, what is happening is historic. These parties were on opposite sides of the Irish civil war that followed Independence in 1922, but now they are headed into Government together for the first time.
On the other hand, it is indicative of the increasingly fragmented nature of Irish politics. We used to having a very good idea before an election of who and what kind of Government we would have afterwards, but that is far from the case now.
As it happens, the new Government will also include the Green Party which won just 7% of the vote in the election. Despite this, they have been given enormous say over the new Programme for Government, which includes a commitment to slash carbon emissions by an incredible 50% in just 10 years.
This extremely far-reaching, eye-wateringly expensive proposal is emphatically not what the vast majority of the electorate voted for, but we are getting it anyway. We might as well have elected Extinction Rebellion.
Given this state of affairs, I’m not sure we can afford to feel too smug about British politics anymore. It has taken more than four months to agree a new Government, subject to the approval of the party memberships. But assuming that happens, there is a reasonable chance that the Government will not last its full five years because the parties could easily fall out. Then it will be back to chaos, or maybe a Sinn Fein-led Government.
Meanwhile, Boris, for all the challenges he faces, has his 80-seat majority. Who’s laughing now?