Helping the government formation discussions along: time for an Irish informateur?


It’s almost four weeks since polling day and there’s still no sign of a government being formed any time soon. The current belief is that when the Dáil next votes on the matter (at its next meeting on April 6 – two weeks from now) we still won’t have a new government. We’re in uncharted territory (for more discussion see here).

Adding greatly to the complexity of the situation are the competing claims of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to be at the lead of any government that may form. We are in the unprecedented situation in which no one party clearly dominates over all the others in terms of seats (and certainly not in terms of votes either).

Given this new reality perhaps it’s time we learned some lessons from our European neighbours for whom an electoral scenario like this is not quite so unusual. A case in point is the Netherlands where ‘hung parliaments’ are the norm, making the issue of government formation just as important as the election itself.

The procedure that has evolved there is for the monarch (the Dutch head of state) to appoint an ‘informateur’ – commonly a respected senior or former politician – whose role is to chair talks between the different parties with a view to determining which group of parties is likely to form a coalition, who is likely to lead it, and what should be included in the programme for government.

This might be a good time to consider a constitutional reform to introduce the office of informateur to cover future situations like this – perhaps such a proposal could be included in the programme for government of whatever government is formed in the next weeks and months (assuming one is formed).

But what to do about the current impasse? What about a private conversation between Enda Kenny and Michael Martin to agree a common statement on the issue? Is this such a far fetched idea?

3 thoughts on “Helping the government formation discussions along: time for an Irish informateur?

  1. The issue is whether a mechanism exists that would allow the President, in exercise of his constitutional powers, to insist that a moderator be so appointed. I’m no lawyer, but given the limited powers of the presidency, which in the current circumstances appear to amount to a refusal to dissolve the Dail in response to such a request from the caretaker Taoiseach, it seems to me that the most he can do is bring ‘moral’ pressure to bear on the parties to opt for such a mechanism as a way of resolving the current impasse (?) The suggestion of appointing a moderator would, it seems, have to come from the parties themselves. And since FG is the largest Dail party, the onus of responsibility rests on them to make the first move….

    The idea may yet gain traction and become part of ‘custom and practice’ since it appears, likely as not, that future elections may give rise to similar government-formation conundrums. Thus, it should form part of the current discussion on parliamentary reform (?) Further, it might fit well with the concept of a parliamentary ‘time lmit’ as applies in other EU countries, including the UK.

  2. It’ll be fine. They will agree things in their own time. The informateur serves the king who chooses the prime minister in the Netherlands. In Ireland, the deputies choose the Taoiseach, and they are served by their party leaders. So it’s grand.

    There is no need for a referendum that will probably be defeated a huge margin because it is seen as pointless, like the Presidential age referendum that came out of the Constitutional Convention.

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