HOW we mocked our friends in the North when they managed to go 1,090 days without a government at Stormont.
The extraordinary impasse, which only ended in January this year, had us raising our eyes to the heavens on this side of the border, tutting that it would never happen down here.
There was even a website set up in honour of this stand-off — howlonghasnorthernirelandnothadagovernment.com — which now carries the proud boasts that Northern Ireland has in fact had a Government for 119 days!
Yes, it adds an exclamation mark, as though there remains an element of permanent surprise that the Nordies’ separate clans have managed to work together for so long.
Well, to people in the Republic who went to the polls on February 8 and are still awaiting the formation of a government in Dublin, the impasse in Belfast is not funny any more.
We’ve since clocked up a remarkable 91 days without a government ourselves, and I’m starting to seriously wonder if we ought to do something to mark the 100-day anniversary on Monday week.
I dunno, perhaps we could find all those ballot papers we filled in and set them alight on a giant bonfire, while dancing around the flames... although, of course social distancing would put the kibosh on that.
Or maybe our politicians could mark their 100th day without allotting power by sending emails to the media, pointing out why they really, really would like to form a government, but, er, you know, numbers, principles, etc... (They appear to have been doing that for the previous 99 days, why change the habit of a Dáil lifetime?)
Yes, yes, I appreciate that a global pandemic put government talks on the back-burner for a while, but it’s not as though our elected representatives didn’t have plenty of time to talk and strike a deal before Covid-19 hit.
As it is, this week, there were finally a few signs that the 33rd Dáil Eireann, hitherto lifeless and impotent, may be about to finally spring to life.
Like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, the new government may have the head of Fine Gael, the body of Fianna Fáil, and the moral conscience of the Green Party — with a few Independent TDs hanging onto the monster’s coat-tails.
Even now, 13 weeks since the election and with the coronavirus threatening our very future, all parties in this macabre dance insist on performing the reluctant slow dance routine. You know the drill, ‘Can I have this dance? ‘How dare you... weeeell, if you insist!’
Thus, the Green Party had to formally accept an offer to have talks on forming a new government with Leo Varadkar’s and Micheál Martin’s parties, then, for some reason, wait a few days.
Because, you know, nobody wants to look too keen, and to seem like the ones to be doing all the running, because, after all, this is only the government of the Republic of Ireland they’re forming.
Jeez, a bit more enthusiasm for it woudn’t go amiss, chaps (yep, all these party leaders are male, as per... wouldn’t want to frighten the horses, don’t you know).
We’re told it will be the end of May before negotiations are concluded and June before the white smoke of a new coalition — just in time for the summer recess!
But even this attempt at a cobbled-up coalition looks like it may end in failure, since the Greens would require the backing of two-thirds of their membership for any deal.
As I have written here before, I firmly believe that, given the unsatisfactory election result combined with the devastating effect of Covid-19, the only option we have is to hold another general election — by postal vote if necessary, to prevent the spread of the virus.
Furthermore, when you see the issues at the forefront of people’s minds on election day, you realise how much has changed in the 91 days since.
Just 6% of voters in RTÉ’s exit poll said climate change was the most important thing when casting their vote — yet if this Frankenstein coalition involving the Greens goes ahead, that will be given huge prominence.
Just 6% of voters said jobs were their main concern on February 8. Would that figure now be more like 96%.
How we move this country forward after Covid-19, socially and financially, is now a massive issue, one all the parties need to properly cost and present to us, ahead of another general election.
Of course, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, and politicians are unlikely to want to put their prized seats up for grabs in another election — but we have a constitutional get-out clause.
Michael D. Higgins can nudge the Dáil in the direction of an election; if a Taoiseach no longer has the support of the majority of Dáil Éireann, the President may choose to call for fresh elections, by signing a proclamation dissolving the Dáil.
However, if Leo Varadkar is seeking a different direction, he does have one more option open to him. He could form a Technocratic Government.
A Techno-what, you ask?
A Technocratic Government is one in which the leader forms a government not of politicians, but of experts in each field.
Such systems are not unknown in Europe — Greece, Bulgaria and Italy have had them — and they often come about at times of great crisis, when elected politicians can’t — or won’t — form a government. Times like now, in Ireland, for instance.
Of course, it would be hard for Leo Varadkar to pull off such a stunt, given he has so few seats in the Dáil and indeed has never been elected Taoiseach in any guise — he won the Fine Gael leadership race to assume it.
Even so, it would lead to some interesting debates about which experts to appoint in which areas. Here’s a few of my ideas to get the ball rolling...
Dr Tony Holohan as Minster for Health.
Michael O’Leary as Minister for Transport.
Fr Sean Healy as Minister for Social Justice.
Dermot Bannon as Minister for Housing.
David McWilliams as Minister of Finance.
Bono as Minister of Culture.
And, of course, the developer Michael O’Flynn as Minister for Getting The Bloody Events Centre Built.