Here are three uncomfortable truths.
First, despite furious public protestations to the contrary, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael strategists are privately reconciled to the fact that neither of them is likely to have any chance of forming a government after any early election unless one of them does a coalition deal with Sinn Féin.
Secondly, and more important than that, Sinn Féin is open to do a coalition deal with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael and will not be party to any “confidence and supply” arrangement that would not see Sinn Féin ministers with their knees tucked in under the cabinet table.
Third, there will be no Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael coalition and no new confidence and supply agreement between them after the next election. FG and FF well know that any such outcome would be the end for the junior or supporting party in any such arrangement.
In the light of these three political facts, what are the chances of an early general election?
Unless FG secures a renewed mandate strong enough to assemble yet another coalition of itself, assorted left and far-left “splinter and shard” parties, and assorted independents, which looks an unlikely outcome, Leo Varadkar will face a term in opposition or else have to offer Sinn Féin five cabinet seats, some of them senior cabinet posts. How would that sit with the FG parliamentarians?
Likewise, Micheál Martin will either have to eat his words after the election and reluctantly concede a coalition with Sinn Féin “in the national interest” or personally leave the political stage. No plausible electoral arithmetic in an early election will see him leading the largest political party.
The FF parliamentary party will simply not refuse an opportunity to get back into power. They have never been out of office for three consecutive Dáil terms. With or without Micheál Martin, they will seize any opportunity to lead the next government. They are done with being external supporters of FG in government; they will not opt for coalition with FG at this point given that they flatly refused such an arrangement when FG offered it to them the last time.
So where is the advantage for Leo in calling or provoking a snap election?
On any view of an early general election he risks losing office to an FF/SF coalition. Such a coalition could last five years.
Why bring forward that risk when he can keep himself and twelve FG ministers in office and enjoy another 18 months as Taoiseach before facing the electorate?
It is hard to see where FG could pick up more than three or four seats in a snap election held this year. And they might very well have a few unexpected casualties.
A lot depends on whether FG can hope to present the voters with a clear reason to believe that the home-building plans of the government have some prospect of delivering affordable houses and affordable rents to the younger generation of voters. For all his efforts, Eoghan Murphy has not yet delivered that belief in light at the end of a dark and tricky political tunnel.
There is also the problem that his confidence and supply deal with FF clearly states that it will run for three budgets and that it will be reviewed “at the end of 2018”.
Finding a plausible pretext for jumping the gun and running to the country could be very problematic. If the voters were to scent a deliberate and contrived premature election, Leo could find that he had already lost their trust at the outset of an election campaign.
Reverting to the fundamental issue, namely whether Sinn Féin is to be a coalition partner after the next election, whenever it happens, it is true that Mary Lou McDonald has shaken off the external appearance of her party being dominated by paramilitarists to some extent.
But that change (which means that we are to be spared election posters featuring Gerry Adams) is largely superficial.
When someone resigns from the parliamentary party or from local government on the grounds of “bullying”, their claim may need to be treated circumspectly.
But when, as in the last year, a rash of such resignations and charges appears in one party in the case of more than 10% of elected representatives, there is ground to believe that there is substance in the allegations.
Moreover, there is every reason to believe that the Sinn Féin party continues to be dominated by a small inner group based in Belfast. Their recent Ard-Fheis held in Belfast gave me the impression as I watched a morning session as being a highly orchestrated and controlled event with carefully prepared and scripted pieces delivered by a carefully selected list of speakers on their best behaviour.
I am old enough to have seen that all before – in party conferences of far left parties addicted to the method and means of “democratic centralism” – the Marxist euphemism for internal dictatorship.
In a party which nominally aspires to the values of cross-community reconciliation on this island but secretly harbours the Kingsmills loaf mentality,
It was depressing but unsurprising to see Caoimhghín O Caoláin write this week to the Ceann Comhairle suggesting the removal of a fine statue of Prince Albert from a quiet and obscure pedestal on Leinster Lawn.
I am content to regard our history as our history – including the murderous, cruel and unforgiveable campaign of the Provos. But I am not prepared to have our history airbrushed, reconfigured and manipulated to hide the past, especially the recent past.
Nor am I content to ignore the political implications for this state of allowing Sinn Féin into office because the other parties are more concerned with their corporate survival than with implementing their shared vision of where the common good lies.
The troubles at Chequers stem directly from the cowardice ad democratic betrayal of those who in the Tory party put the unity of their party, its survival in one election, facing a challenge, from UKIP before their own belief if the interests of their country.
If that was shameful, as it was, is it any less shameful than the slowly emerging willingness, if not desire, of FF and FG to place themselves in coalition with Sinn Féin rather than cooperate politically with each other.
Political facts can change.
Maybe if they faced a challenge at the polls from candidates pledged not to allow them to bring Sinn Féin into government, the composition of the next Dáil might be such as to prevent that from happening.