Fine Gael have a choice between courage or capitulation

Our political analyst Odran Flynn on how Fine Gael have not only lost the battle they have waived the white flag in the war

Fine Gael have a choice between courage or capitulation

Photo: Sam Boal/

So it appears as if we are finally going to get a government and Enda Kenny will fulfil his cherished ambition of being the first Fine Gael leader to be Taoiseach for two successive terms.

However, for Fine Gael, it may well turn out to be the most electorally expensive vanity exercise in their long history.

Their party spokespersons have spent the past few hours bombarding the airways with mealy-mouthed justifications of why they have turned off the tap on a utility that they have spent the last 60 days defending.

They will of course argue that Irish Water will continue to exist in some form, and Fianna Fáil has accepted this.

But it does not require a great deal of analysis to pay lip service to something that is going to be irrelevant in its current form.

To date, Fianna Fáil spokespeople have been circumspect in acknowledging that they won the argument hands down - despite a direct invitation to say that they had “stuffed it to the blueshirts”.

However they spin it, Fine Gael can never justify complete capitulation - and not only have they lost the battle, they have waived the white flag in the war.

The Pyrrhic victory that the incoming Taoiseach is about to win and thus put him in the history books may well turn out to be the epitaph of his party.

61 days ago, 544,140 of the electorate gave their first preference vote to Fine Gael. You can be absolutely certain that the vast majority of these are included in the 928,000 who have paid all or part of their water charges.

You can be equally certain that €110m collected will never go back into the bank accounts of those who obeyed the law of the land.

The party of “law and order” has deserted its foot soldiers and at the next general election, whether that be in six months or 36 months, those who chose power over principle will pay a heavy price.

A red line issue has to be worth more than a few months of emasculated power. Because that is all they will have, as every decision that is made in the 32nd Dáil over its lifetime will be at the whim of Fianna Fáil and a handful of Independents.

They can dress it up all they like as a minority government reflecting the will of the people - but it will only last until a series of opinion polls show that Fianna Fáil will clearly become the largest party and they find a point of principle to pull the plug.

There are those who argue that Fine Gael had no other choice. That it was a battle they could not win if they were to retain power. And of course they are right within the context of the 32nd Dáil.

However, they do have a choice if there is someone in Fine Gael courageous enough to stand up and say it - go to the country again and let the people decide.

Yes it may well mean that Fine Gael, or more accurately Enda Kenny, would lose out on successive periods in government; but it would be up to Fianna Fáil to deal with the disenchanted 928,000 who lost out financially.

It would also bring back into focus all the more important issues that we are continually being told are being neglected in the absence of a government.

A period in opposition would allow Fine Gael to deal with replacing the electoral liability that their current leader has become.

They would be in a much stronger position in a couple of years time, as Fianna Fáil attempt to implement their election promises with a non-existent fiscal space.

And it is not as if Fianna Fáil is going to get away scot-free. Many of their 519,356 supporters are also in the paid column of Irish Water.

Commissions and committees can delay the final decision for a couple of years - but Sinn Féin, AAA/PBP and the cohort of left-leaning Independents will make capital in that time.

The way that Fine Gael is now heading will result in their supporters, humiliated by the cowardice of their elected representatives, deserting them in droves.

It may well be a long time before a Fine Gael leader is making his or her way to Áras an Uachtaráin again to receive the seal of office.

Perhaps we have discovered the real reason that Fine Gael has never been re-elected.