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The website, Political Reform, has published figures based on the new poll: Fianna Fail 12, Fine Gael 67, Labour 48, Green Party 0, Sinn Fein 24, Independents/Others 15. (It is reckoned that the 15 include 10 who would be “left leaning”.)

Perhaps I’m the only one concerned that an overweening majority would threaten our democracy. On the basis of these figures, Lab/FG would have 115 seats. That’s not a safe majority. It’s downright dangerous and must not happen. The same could be said of FF/FG/SF having 103 seats.

Two combinations remain:

Lab/SF and 10 independents would have 82 seats.

FF/FG with 5 independents would have 84 seats.

The Left coalition depends on the belief that SF are socialist. However, it is implausible that a party which broke from Official SF partly to avoid contamination by socialist ideas and then supported the IRA murder of more Irish people than any other combatant group in N.I. has “found” socialism. It is true that the “socialist split” happened decades ago in very different circumstances but many of SF’s present leaders were around then or soon after. SF are “positioning” themselves to the left of Labour. It is a measure of desperation that many socialists are falling for it. SF are unchallenged at the ballot box for the “traditional” extreme right, nationalist vote. Their hope is that clientilism in poor areas and populist guff disguised by the terminology of socialism will deliver sizeable numbers of the poor and some naive socialists. A “left” coalition which included SF would destroy the credibility of Irish socialism. It would be crazy for Labour to be a part of that.

That leaves a Right coalition with a small majority, facing an energetic and ambitious Labour opposition, challenged on its left by a handful of “fantasy” socialists, with SF pursuing who knows what?



  1. I agree with the abstract principle that a super-sized majority is bad, even dangerous, for the health of the nation. But isn’t there a deeper problem that renders the principle largely idle in the present political context? I’m referring to the fact that in recent years the power of the executive has become so unassailable that the opposition, whatever it’s size, is almost totally powerless to affect changes in policy.

    Fianna Fail’s majority waxed and waned over the past decade, but these changes do not appear to correlate with shifts in policy that might reasonably be attributed to opposition pressure. When it suited them, they would steal an idea and pass it off as their own (usually in the run up to an election). But I can’t think of a major policy shift that was forced on them through sustained campaigning by the opposition (I could well be wrong about this, and would appreciate correction on the matter if needs be).

    Fianna Fail appeared to govern with blind gusto at each and every turn on the road to ruin, regardless of their numerical supremacy. Even now, with their majority under serious threat, they do not appear to give a damn what the opposition says.

    In light of this, I am not sure I can work myself up about the threats posed by a large majority. Perhaps we ought to focus instead on the assumption that seems to underpin your assertion that a large majority would threaten our democracy; namely, that we have the kind of democracy that could be threatened by such an outcome.

  2. Peter,
    I agree with your emphasis on the power of the Executive. However, even in “normal” times the executive would feel constrained by the possibility of losing their majority. Just yesterday they had to cut some sort of deal with two independents and a backbencher. This type of carry-on is usually about favouring constituency projects. However, this time it might also have been about old-age pensions.

    Now, in the coming fraught period and given that we’ve had so much guff about the virtue of taking tough decisions, a govt. with too great a majority could indeed afford to be tough – perhaps too tough, perhaps authoritarian.

    There is a distinction between a govt. dependent on a few constituency focussed TDs with the scandal of bought-and-paid-for support in crucial votes, and a govt. dependent on the support of, let’s just say, ordinary TDs.

    In a system which – as you rightly point out – the executive is so powerful, I worry about the possibility of too great a majority. As a long-time member of the Labour Party, I don’t doubt the good intentions of Labour cabinet members but I’m not happy with the prospect of a Lab/FG coalition with 115 seats. There’s a lot to be said for a modest majority and it’s time to think about a majority so large as to be downright dangerous.

    • Perhaps I’m missreading the situation, but my impression is that the political manoeuvering going on over the issue of old age pensions is being driven more by the threat of public opinion morphing into something that could seriously damage the government than by the bargaining efforts of constituency focussed TDs. And it seems to me that this point can be generalised. Whenever public opinion is actively mobilised against the government, that’s when we can expect significant shifts in policy.

      Of course, it is open to you to respond that the mobilisation of public opinion is a greater threat to government when their majority is slim, since the TDs who hold the balance of power are in a position to exploit public opinion for their own narrow self-interest. But this argument will only persuade a sceptic if the following conditions can be shown to hold true:

      a) mobilised public opinion is much less effective when the government has a large majority,
      b) mercenary TDs are capable of changing core aspects of government policy even when there is no threat of public opinion being mobilised to agitate for such changes.

      If these conditions cannot be met, then doubts arise over the idea that a slim majority really does lead to a less authoritarian executive.

  3. Peter,
    I’m not claiming to be able to offer any great level of proof. I’d be content if someone would simply say that my argument was plausible and share my concern. The figures suggest a huge Lab/FG majority. Apart from me, everyone seems unconcerned about that.

    I don’t agree that all TDs or even a majority of TDs are motivated by self interest. Of the few I know or have known, that has not been my experience.

    I introduced the issue of pensions as an example of something that was not to do with constituency projects. Public opinion is not of great relevance to what concerns me here; it’s the potential that a relatively small number of TDs might be able to make the govt. pause for thought. A govt. with a huge majority can plough on, knowing that only a huge backbench rebellion can hinder their plans.

  4. All well and good, but in the end there’s no way that the numbers will be quite like that at the actual election. FF may be imploding and its vote may appear to be in meltdown, but at the ballot box this will be adjusted by people voting for ‘their’ TD whom they regard as somehow different. I’ve done a constituency-by-constituency analysis and my prediction is this: FF 39, FG 58, Lab 42, Greens 0, SF 16, Ind 11.

    That creates somewhat different options and permutations. The pressure is on FG and Labour to form a government, but there may be other options that get a push when the time comes.

    • Colum McCaffery
    • Posted December 18, 2010 at 10:50 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    The predictions which I found alarming and on which I based my argument came from and are now two polls out of date. (See below.) Your predictions are no less alarming. On your figures a Lab/FG coalition would enjoy the support of 100 seats. That is a dangerous majority. Even more alarming is the possibility of a FF/FG coalition with 97 seats. Not only is that a dangerous majority but coupled with the essential right-wing agreement of the two parties would produce a ruthless government. The only safe outcome that I can see from your figures is a minority government or a Lab/FF coalition with the support of some independents.

    Here’s the latest prediction from my usual source:
    Fianna Fail 27, Fine Gael 66, Labour 46, Green Party 0, Sinn Fein 15, Independents 12 (including 5 United Left Alliance seats)
    Again a Lab/FG coalition on these fifures is far, far too strong. Neither your figures nor these figures give any hope that the problem will go away.

    • Colum, I agree it’s an interesting and potentially explosive issue. However, any realignment of politics is, I believe, going to start with a government with a very large majority – which will lead to balancing within one parliament.

  5. Ferdinand,I’d be content for now to have the dangers of an excessive majority appear on the public agenda. I’m a bit shocked and – to be honest – scared that this has not become an issue.

    I think you are wrong to see it as a harmless process to be gone through. People will be hurt by reckless policy and faith in democracy will be further eroded.

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  1. By Election annihilation? « Order and Tradition on 30 Dec 2010 at 4:23 pm

    […] would leave the most likely government of Fine Gael and Labour with 115 seats, which according to some is “an overweening majority would threaten our democracy”. The writer suggests two other […]

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