Farm Ireland

Wednesday 26 October 2016

This hotch-potch government must hang together - or hang separately

Downing on politics...

Published 28/09/2016 | 02:30

John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke
John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke

I've always like the old gag about the shipwrecked Irishman washed up on a foreign shore. After he gathers himself a little, he asks a local some political questions.

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"Is there a government here?" he asks. "Of course," comes the reply.

"Well, then I'm 'agin' it!" says the Irishman.

That old one comes to mind as our TDs grace Leinster House again today after a 10-week absence, bar that one day earlier in the month when they came back to debate the EU's €13bn Apple tax ruling.

It will be a packed agenda between now and Christmas, so they'll have to hit the ground running. This day fortnight is Budget Day - a day on which farmer organisations will hope to see some incentives to lift the gloomy autumn mood of many farmers.

Yesterday marked seven months to the day since the general election on February 26. The creaky hotch-potch minority coalition which finally emerged after 70 days of low-energy negotiations has never looked too durable.

It's a mix of Fine Gael and diverse Independents, supported by Fianna Fáil from the outside. Its main cohesion is derived from the only sentiment shared by all 158 TDs - a will to avoid another early election.

The Coalition has not been able to do very much and it is hard to see it biting the bullet on some of the hard issues coming up. But two opinion polls before the Dáil's return threw up some interesting facts worth drilling into.

While there are some variations between the two polls, there are also some similar trends which help inform our pre Dáil political stock-take.

First, is that if we had an election soon again, we would get much the same result. There are many people out there still 'agin' this very odd Government. Close to half those polled back parties or groups outside the Government or not supporting it.

Fianna Fáil remains the most popular party. But a spike in support before the Dáil broke up in July appears to be halted.

Their unique position of being in opposition - but trying to call some of the key shots within government remains hard to fathom and they must tread cautiously.

Fine Gael is also becalmed with about a quarter of the electorate's support - down over 10 points from the heady days of that election in 2011. Tackling the issue of how and when Enda Kenny is to be replaced cannot be delayed much longer after Budget day.

More immediately, how the two moneybags ministers, Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe, emerge from the Budget will also be crucial. Their names will be on the document and they must find space to put the "FG brand" on it, while facing the demands of both Independents and Fianna Fáil.

The Independent Alliance, which has a senior, a super junior and two juniors on the ministerial team, has had a hard adjustment from always being right about everything that is wrong in opposition, to having to take tough government decisions and live with them.

Will-he-stay/will-he-go? -aka John Halligan - has been most problematic. But these opinion polls tell them an election is not a good idea.

Indeed, the surveys counsel all associated with this government that they must hang together lest they hang separately.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent

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