As far as the history of Irish elections is concerned the answer is a resounding yes. But is that inevitable? Are there better ways for smaller parties to conduct themselves while they are in office that might help them avoid being punishment in the subsequent election? I raise this question in the context of a possible Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition. I am not advocating that the Greens "deal with the devil" as Ciarán Cuffe put it but this kind of "minimum winning coalition" is far more likely than a Fianna Fáil/Labour alliance which would have too many surplus members. The theory of minimum winning coalitions of course assumes that politicians are only interested in dividing the spoils of office - a fair assumption in the case of our own ruling party.
Cuffe was wondering whether doing such a deal would "be worth it after being spat out after 5 years, and decimated as a party". (Actually, to be pedantic for a moment, decimation would only result in losing one in ten seats, which they don't have!). His colleague in the Dáil, John Gormley, recently remarked that he dreaded another five years in opposition. But such is the zero-sum nature of power in our system that prominent Greens are thinking aloud the possibility of doing the deal with Fianna Fáil. Which brings me back to the question of whether the voters would take their revenge on the Greens.
A smaller party should consider a different positional stance in relation to how it operates in government. The temptations of office are very hard to resist in the winner-take-all Irish system. Opposition parties have no role to play in our system other than to constantly declare their contrary stance to everything the government does. It's not like in federal systems or other more decentralised polities where a party, not part of the governing majority at the centre, might at least rule a big city, province or county. So ambitious and talented politicians will be tempted to try to get some power to implement some of their agenda.
The Greens could possibly enter into negotiations with Fianna Fáil and find that there would be no bending by the bigger party on highly symbolic issues like the Shannon stopover flights by the US military and the Corrib gas pipeline. But they may find that they could achieve some concrete objectives in areas like energy conservation and public transport. Green Party leaders could then ask the party membership to endorse a programme for government on that basis. This is where general positional stance is important. They don't have to constantly extol each and every aspect of what the government of which they are a member does. The party could continue to advocate for its other policies as a distinct party even when its parliamentary members might have to vote in ways that are seemingly contradictory because it was part of a governing majority.
Obviously the bigger party would probably bridle at this semi-detached stance but it too would want to continue in office and avoid being seen to start a row that could precipitate an unnecessary election. The smaller party would need to have effective public spokespersons to explain what they were trying to achieve as a political organisation campaigning to maximise its influence in the pursuit of its long term goals. Very often non-ministerial politicians can do this job most effectively, e.g. Michael McDowell as PD Chairman during the early years of the FF/PD alliance. If the leaders of the Green Party were open about the fact that they needed to take office to pursue some of their agenda but still reserved the right to take a an independent and critical stance that would fall short of bringing down the government, then it's just possible that the voters might understand and appreciate such a stance and not "decimate" the party at the next election.