You will no doubt recall that in 2016 it took Enda Kenny and his colleagues some 70 days to form a Government.
That delay was heavily criticised. However, four years later, we are now looking at the prospect of not having a functioning Government before the end of May and possibly mid-June.
This time around, it is only the “political anoraks” that are exercised about the delay. The general public is concerned about one thing only, Covid-19, and its impact on their lives to date and the likely implications going forward.
Nevertheless, over the last week or so we have witnessed some movement regarding the possible formation for a new Government.
Towards the end of last week, historic political adversaries Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agreed a bilateral statement of principles to underpin a future Government and with the exception of Sinn Féin, circulated that document to the other party leaders.
But in the context of the pandemic, recent economic forecasts will have done little to convince others to join a new FF-FG coalition. A real possibility of the worst recession since the 1930s, with record levels of unemployment and a significant hole blown in the State’s budget due to Covid-19 and associated medical and social supports, means that no one can credibly approach Government formation with a shopping lists of demands.
The Social Democrats and The Labour Party have signalled privately that they are highly unlikely to enter Government. Some commentators are suggesting that Labour, under its new leader Alan Kelly, will want time to rebuild the party and may be willing to enter into a softer “supply and confidence” arrangement to avoid an early election.
Rumours which circulated earlier this week that the Green Party were back in play seem to have gained greater currency.
It a matter of record that the Regional Group of Independent TDs (Denis Naughten, Cathal Berry, Michael Lowry, etc.) had a very productive meeting with FF and FG this week. It appears that this grouping, along with a small number of other independents – Marian Harken, Matt Shanahan, Michael McNamara and possibly others - are likely to support an FF/FG Government. However, that would still leave the numbers very tight, hence the need to attract the support of a third party such as the Greens, Labour or the Social Democrats.
Another significant challenge which the larger parties must overcome before forming any Government is the fact that they must get approval from their party membership. This task, should it need to be carried out, is further compounded by the Covid-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, receiving such support from party members cannot be underestimated.
Should Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael be unable to attract sufficient Dáil support for their proposed arrangement, or should they fail to gain party membership support, one final option of Fianna Fáil engaging with Sinn Féin will surely come back into play.
However, there are many moving parts that must play out before that option is even considered.
Hence, the general consensus is that it could be mid-June before we see the shape of the next Government.