For the good of democracy, a commentator in the Sunday Independent urges the 'great divide' in Irish politics be bridged by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael forming a grand coalition. This is the sort of scenario the left used to have wet dreams about. It was supposed to be the thing that would re-align politics along class and ideological lines and end the artificial divisions of civil war politics. Our commentator today argues that a FF/FG alignment would be "good for our democracy" and a wider portion of the electorate would be represented.
It would also supposedly allow for more meaningful opposition.
The performance of Fine Gael-led opposition for the past 10 years has been pitiful, because they agree with Fianna Fail on almost everything. Were we to have red-green opposition, the checks and balances for the executive would surely be more rigorous (note the anaemic performance of the Opposition during the Bertiegate controversy).
But it will never happen. There is a well known theorem in political science called the "minimum winning coalition" which is based on a zero-sum view of the nature of political resources. In such situations a minimum winning coalition is the most easily gathered combination when a coalition must be formed. A minimum winning coalition is a coalition which contains "no surplus members." Just over 50 per cent will do.
A grand coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would be oversized and cause huge problems particularly when it comes to dividing the spoils of office. Bertie Ahern seems to have great difficulties in trying to appoint junior ministers and the Sunday Independent has a piece about whether Seán Haughey, the "poor hoor", will eventually get the nod.
The Taoiseach's sole criteria in appointing junior ministers is to shut up troublemakers, and to secure some imagined electoral advantage for FF in marginal constituencies. Once that is done, the Taoiseach holds junior ministers in such contempt that he struggles to remember the names of such stellar figures as Joe Jacob, our sadly departed minister in charge of nuclear safety.
Oversized coalitions would make for less spoils of office and, in parties where the pursuit of office is paramount, this creates problems for party leaders. In any case, judging from today's poll in the Sunday Business Post, the current government may well be re-elected. The focus is now on the dismal opposition.