Sunday 30 April 2017

Fianna Fáil happy to let Kenny hobble on, but all that changes if box office Leo takes over

Leo Varadkar is box office, you wouldn't know what sort of impact he could have on the voting public, sources believe Photo: Tony Gavin
Leo Varadkar is box office, you wouldn't know what sort of impact he could have on the voting public, sources believe Photo: Tony Gavin
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

As the 32nd Dáil stumbles into its final week of what has been a tumultuous first term, the latest set of opinion polls have provided our political leaders with plenty of food for thought.

We now know, just five months after the General Election, that Fianna Fáil has overtaken Fine Gael as the most popular party. The reasons for that are threefold.

Firstly, voters have responded positively to Fianna Fáil's central role in propping up this minority administration. The party has acted responsibly and secured a series of victories in areas such as mortgages and motor insurance. But perhaps more significantly, it has yet to experience the level of disquiet, plotting and in-fighting that has plagued Fine Gael in recent weeks.

The second reason for Fianna Fáil's bounce in the polls relates to the precarious state of Irish politics right now. Voters can detect the real sense of instability that surrounds the Fine Gael-Independent partnership government.

As evidenced in the polls, voters see the Independents as the major source of instability, and thus are returning to the party they used to know so well. One assumes the recent controversy surrounding collective Cabinet responsibility has made voters think twice about whether Independents really do offer a different appeal.

Finally, there's the Micheál effect. In Enda Kenny, voters see a leader clinging on for dear life. While in Micheál Martin, they come across a leader with energy and finesse.

But at senior level within Fianna Fáil, there is a sense of concern that everything will change if Kenny is replaced as leader in the coming months.

Mr Martin was asked about his party's poll bounce at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties last night.

He said previous polls, which showed the party performing poorly, "sapped morale from the party". But he described the polls post-election as a "distraction".

"In this particular period, they are pretty meaningless in one sense, we are in a very sort of new phase of post-General Election politics and I don't think they tell me a whole lot. Other than that, you might get a sense, because of 'Brexit', people might be moving back to the mainstream and less impressed with 'Brexit'. But by and large, I am dismissive of the polls now."

Mr Martin also dismissed the idea of forcing an early election in light of the party's bounce.

"It's just not thinkable you would be contemplating an election, two or three months after a confidence and supply arrangement we arrived at in good faith," he said.

Fianna Fáil strategists believe it is in their interests to allow Mr Kenny to hobble from one calamity to the next, while at the same time putting in place the groundwork to become the largest party after the election.

"That all changes if Leo or Simon takes over. Leo is box office, you wouldn't know what sort of impact he could have on the voting public," said one source.

Irish Independent

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