When it comes to an FF/FG coalition, coronavirus is just a cover story
To some, coronavirus is just one big cover story.
On Wednesday, Ireland recorded its first death from the virus, with dozens of confirmed cases now on record. There will likely be hundreds of thousands more - maybe even up to 1.9 million - and there can be no denying that we are on the cusp of a crisis.
Going forgotten in the background of the corona panic is our similarly tumultuous political situation. A little over a month ago, the Irish public went to the polls to decide who would lead the country and delivered a resounding "We really don't know."
But despite the indecision of the public, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael appear to be selflessly taking matters into their own hands.
In a statement issued on Tuesday evening, their inevitable alliance was made flesh when both parties released an identical statement.
"The Leaders of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have held constructive discussions over the last two days about a series of policy issues and the current political situation. They have decided that teams from the two parties should now commence in depth detailed talks," it read.
"Both parties will also continue discussions with the Green Party. Both leaders are acutely aware of the enormous challenges facing the country, particularly with the onset of COVID 19."
Of course, up until very recently, Micheál Martin would have had you believe that his Fine Gael rivals were responsible for the enormous challenges facing the country, like the housing crisis, or the trolley crisis, or the childcare crisis. Varadkar's excuse for Fine Gael's failings is that they were hamstrung by Fianna Fáil's failings during the financial crisis.
But now? Look at that teamwork. Perfectly synchronised press statements. Poetry in motion. A brief assertion that in order to cope with coronavirus, we simply have no better option available to us than a slight modification on the same set up that was rather robustly rejected at the polls last month (and explicitly disavowed by Micheál Martin).
Watch Taoiseach @LeoVaradkar outline why Fine Gael is entering in-depth talks with Fianna Fáil, and continuing discussions with the Green Party. pic.twitter.com/ZDSOPxYHEY
— Fine Gael (@FineGael) March 10, 2020
Still: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have a shared reputation of overseeing crisis, not preventing it.
Whether the disastrous bank bailout, the property bubble, patients waiting for treatment on trolleys, and now, of course, Ireland's impenetrable housing system - which has resulted in 10,000 people homeless and tens of thousands more unable to afford to buy a home. When one thinks of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's relationship with crisis, the word "cause" comes to mind.
That perception is precisely why a majority of the country declined to give these parties their vote. It's why both of their seat shares tumbled so dramatically. It's why their grip on power is looser than it's ever been, in the history of the country.
And yet, Ireland cannot continue to waddle along without a government, like a drunk man with his trousers around his ankles.
So what else is there available to us?
Fianna Fáil veteran Eamon O'Cuív, who has long been an opponent of any deal with Fine Gael, has proposed a national government to tackle the Covid-19 crisis. This seems a sounder idea, and would take the spin off the political football the lethal illness is fast becoming.
There is nothing to suggest that this process will be made more efficient by simply combining the brainpower of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael — with the Greens thrown in not because the other two are concerned about the climate impact of how we fight coronavirus, but simply to provide the requisite numbers so that they can actually say that, all together, they technically have a mandate. The Greens themselves have echoed called for a national government.
The two parties are being explicit about this. They intend to form a crisis government, they have specifically namechecked Covid-19 as the motivator for this urgency. But once the crisis has been abated, that government will remain.
FG/FF/Green was an entirely legitimate coalition last week, and the week before that. The fact that it's coming now, under a false pretext, is what will concern the 55% of people who gave their first preference elsewhere.
In case it looks like I'm veering into hardcore conspiracy territory here, let me be clear. I don't think Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil teamed up to unleash a virus upon bats in Wuhan on the basis that the virus would eventually make its way across the world, endangering millions, and eventually leading to mild chaos in Ireland that necessitates a coalition between the only two parties who have ever ruled Ireland.
What I am saying is that Covid-19 has appeared like a guardian angel to Ireland's centrist parties, wrapping them both in its fluffy white wings and delivering them to their rightful place at the head of the Irish government once again.
What is clear is that the leadership of both parties had been longing for an excuse of any kind to facilitate their teaming up, rather than simply admitting that there are virtually no ideological differences between them.
Now they have one.