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19 February 2004 Edition

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Return to politics of Tweedledee and Tweedledum

When is a minority better than a majority in democracy? When you're trying to become a mover and shaker in Leinster House and you're picking and choosing what parties you want onside.

This is what happened last Tuesday, when Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party decided to use the whole e-voting catastrophe to jointly attack the Dublin Government. The three parties, which have glaring policy differences in almost all areas of political life, agreed that, despite there being a consensus amongst the opposing parties and independents on the system, they did not want the entire opposition signing up to their motion calling for a moratorium on e-voting.

Why, you may ask, would any party refuse the support of another party or independent, if it made their motion even stronger?

Well there are a couple of reasons. The first is that this motion may have been one of many to be jointly supported by the three in preparation for their much-anticipated pre-general election pact.

The second reason might well lie with Labour, which has become increasingly more frightened of Sinn Féin's growing strength in the South. With Rabbitte consistently leaning just a little to the right of Mussolini, Sinn Féin has become the party of the left in the 26 Counties and is quickly swallowing up most of Labour's old votes.

A pact between the three, unlikely as it may sound (given the reluctance of many members in both Labour and the Greens to be associated with Fine Gael), is looking as though it may happen and has been given more steam after their adventure together on Tuesday.

For proof, just look at the sickly sweet remarks made by Labour leader Pat Rabbitte on Wednesday, when he praised Fine Gael's Enda Kenny for "flushing out the division and unease within the government parties" and forcing the government into a partial climbdown.

Their joining together and excluding everyone else on this issue however, is ironic, given that the motion itself notes the government's failure to "consult with or seek agreement of the other parties" in the Dáil.

It was Sinn Féin who highlighted the problems with the system shortly after it was announced, including the absence of any verifiable paper trail — something which Fine Gael and Labour belatedly used as their main ammo in Tuesday's debate.

Sinn Féin supports the idea of electronic voting using a kiosk type system, but has called for the Mercuri method to be applied, where a paper copy of the vote, verified by the voter, is held for the purpose of independent recount.

Whoever eventually proposed the motion, Sinn Féin did not hesitate to support it — which says a lot more about Sinn Féin's politics than those of these three parties, who appear more interested in uniting for short-term gain than any real political motivation.

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