10th February 2020

Mary Lou’s moxy leaves Micheál in the last chance saloon

With all the votes yet to be counted, drawing full conclusions on this unprecedented election is premature.

What is abundantly clear, however, is that the result has delivered what the public wanted: change. Not even Mystic Meg could have predicted the scale of the electoral shift that has unfolded.

Even Sinn Féin, which so brilliantly captured the mood for change, did not sense it early enough. Privately, they will be kicking themselves for not fielding enough candidates. Had they done so, Mary Lou McDonald would right now be in prime position to be the next Taoiseach.

But that should not take away in any sense from the party’s success. Just nine months ago, they were firmly rejected in local and European elections. They dusted themselves down and zoned in with laser-like precision on the societal issues that matter to people, like insurance, pensions, health, and housing.

They created platforms to showcase their talented, thoughtful team of spokespersons. The timely restoration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland put a potential weakness to bed before the off.

Their leader, Mary Lou McDonald, underwent a transformation. Gone was the snarl. In its place was ambition, energy, and ideas. Her moxy resonated with every age group in every demographic.

The more the media tried to spook the public with Sinn Féin’s past, the more oxygen it gave them. The blend peaked perfectly just at the right time, creating a brand surge that everyone wanted to buy.

The great big elephant

In contrast for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the outcome leaves both at the crossroads. While historians and stalwarts may see differences between the traditional two, the majority don’t. A merger of both parties is now the elephant in the room.

Whether or not the elephant is confronted brings us to what is less clear as the results solidify: the make-up of the next government. Expect to read and hear about multiple permutations as the Mexican stand-off commences.

The first move on government formation realistically falls to the party with the most seats, likely Fianna Fáil. While it may be numerically strongest, Fianna Fáil has a weakened hand. Realistically, it has three options:

  1. Step back and refuse to enter government.
  2. Form a coalition with Sinn Féin (and likely the Green Party).
  3. Form a coalition with Fine Gael (and likely the Green Party).

Fine Gael’s appetite for government, after nine years of it, is waning. A standard Fianna Fáil–Fine Gael coalition doesn’t exactly feel like change. However, if it were to be accompanied by a signal of a possible merger to break with the past and ambitiously structure for the future (with a Green buffer thrown in), then perhaps a ‘change’ package could be conjured up.

Having steadfastly ruled out coalescing with Sinn Féin during the campaign, a coming together of a Fianna Fáil–Sinn Féin coalition is altogether more fraught for Micheál Martin (and Mary Lou McDonald).

Politically, Micheál Martin is drinking in the last chance saloon; he knows it, and so do his colleagues and opponents. His next move, and when he makes it, is key. Leo and Fine Gael will wait and watch.

Finally, for now, as the election outcome crystallises, what does it signal to those businesses and organisations that engage with political decision-makers? It’s that word again: change.

Of the next Dáil, the majority are left or left leaning ideologically, while some 60% have been elected on a mandate of change.

Every one of the 160 members will be under no illusion about one thing—right or wrong, the public will not tolerate more of the same in either policies and attitudes. Pressure to deliver change will be immediate. This new dynamic can go either of two ways for those seeking to influence decisions: for or against.

About the author

Founder and Managing Director of PR360, Dan’s career spans business, politics and professional representation. He has overseen the agency’s rapid growth, developing a premier client portfolio and a talented team of professionals.

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