With Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar speaking at the Béal na Bláth memorial to the assassination of Michael Collins, it will be the first time a Fianna Fáil leader has spoken.
While the Coalition (and before that the Confidence and Supply Agreement) makes this show of unity purely symbolic interest, the question arises as to why they remain separate parties 100 years after a division no longer relevant to Irish politics.
They might have wanted to kill each other, but the idea that Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera were so far apart that their different visions could have sustained different parties for nearly a century is far-fetched.
Collins is no more obviously Fine Gael than Daniel O’Connell or any other constitutional nationalist leader. Dev impersonated Fianna Fáil, but the party was much larger than him and lasted long after he left front-line politics.
The long-held characterization of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as the tweedledum and tweedledee of Irish politics has never been as accurate as those who made these charges. And the current talk about the parties as being indistinguishable is just as inaccurate.
But now both are at historic lows, are they viable as separate political entities? Parties that have been as dominant as Fianna Fáil have succumbed to less pressure.
The Christian Democrats in Italy have failed in a series of corruption scandals. Pasok in Greece has all but disappeared as a major constituency since the financial crisis. The French Socialist Party seems unable to find a voice between Emmanuel Macron’s centrist En Marche and more radical parties left and right.
Neither of the two Irish parties can be guaranteed to survive the current upheavals in the party system. It is therefore inevitable that the Béal na Blath event will prompt speculation of a merger between the two parties. A merger – which is unlikely anyway – would be a strategic mistake.
First of all, mergers in politics almost never work. The idea of a merger is that the new entity can become something greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not how it works in politics.
The Labor Party has been the subject of many mergers in the past, most recently with the Democratic Left. It never became the dominant force on the left in Ireland that it thought it would be. It wasn’t until 2011, well after the merger, that Labor threatened to take over the two old parties, but then the decision to go into government with Fine Gael ended that dream.
The reason for company mergers is that they can benefit from economies of scale – you can enter new markets by merging with an existing company in that market. It can cover the entire market; So Coca Cola could buy a brand of chips and a brand of chocolate.
But that’s not how politics works. A party introduces itself to the voters and positions itself in a place. It can try to be everything for everyone, but is unlikely to succeed.
Sinn Féin has the advantage of running in two different jurisdictions for substantially different constituencies, but even so its record in government in Northern Ireland is used against them in the South.
While you may find that their offerings are essentially the same, the two brands, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, cater to different market segments that consider themselves distinct.
And the two parties are different. Fine Gael is not just the party of big farmers and professionals. There is a philosophy behind the slogan of helping people get up early. Fine Gael believes that government is not the answer to every problem and that it is often the cause of the problem.
Consider their stance on demanding an increase in unemployment benefits when many industries are facing shortages.
In contrast, Fianna Fáil is much more of the view that the state has a role to play in improving people’s lives. It is more likely to support an increase in allowances, but may prefer to raise the minimum wage to incentivize people to take up work. They are both centrists, but they could go against the other’s approach in an election.
The second reason not to expect a merger is that many of these new parties emerging in Europe are largely personal vehicles for charismatic leaders.
Neither Varadkar nor Martin are likely to inspire a new political movement – I’m not sure there is a political leader in Ireland who would. Both are so sane that they struggle to demonize their opponents.
That might not be the worst. In many countries with charismatic leaders, you grow so tall you could squeeze an eejit out of them—think Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, or Boris Johnson.
Neither Varadkar nor Martin are fools, but they are in a tight spot. As long as they are in government together, their parties will look too similar, but neither can they afford to go to the country separately after the early split.
Eoin O’Malley teaches politics and politics at Dublin City University.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/forging-an-alliance-would-be-political-blunder-for-old-civil-war-foes-41925769.html Forging an alliance would be a political mistake for old enemies of the civil war