As we approach polling day and without any sign (so far?) of a last minute surge for the coalition parties the most likely outcome is a hung Dáil. Of course another outcome is possible – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could once and for all bury their civil war differences and form a Grand Coalition. Based on the most recent poll of polls they would have a large majority, with Fine Gael predicted to win about 55 seats and Fianna Fáil 33 seats.
Let’s suspend reality for a moment and address the ‘what if?’ question.
Quite apart from the impact of such a move on the parties (for another discussion perhaps) there is the question of how such an arrangement might work. We’ve not had the experience before of a coalition in which the parties involved are so closely matched in terms of seats. Questions have been raised in some quarters about whether the parties might consider rotating the position of Taoiseach.
Is this such a mad idea? There is one real world example that shows it can happen. The 1984 Israeli election resulted in stalemate between forces of the left – ranged around the Labor Alignment (which won 44 of the 120 seats in the Knesset) – and forces of the right, led by the Likud Party (which won 41 seats). The only option they could come up with was a National Unity government (in which they were joined by a clutch of minor parties).
At the heart of the coalition deal was an agreement that the position of prime minister would rotate – each party holding that position for two years with the other party leader holding the position of deputy prime minister and foreign minister. There were other components to the deal – components that should be pretty familiar to us – including:
- Parity in the number of ministers and in the allocation of ministerial departments in terms of their relative weight;
- An inner cabinet comprising an equal mix of both parties;
- Cabinet reshuffles or firing of ministers had to be agreed by both parties; and
- Legislation had to be agreed by both parties.
In a country not exactly known for a great spirit of inter-party cooperation the National Unity government worked: the prime ministers rotated as agreed and the government lasted for 51 months – as is pointed out here, making it one of the longest lasting governments in Israeli history.
Something to consider here?