Thursday 29 September 2016

Giving FF its head could spark an election

Published 09/08/2016 | 02:30

Finance Minister Michael Noonan Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Finance Minister Michael Noonan Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Damned if they do and damned if they don't.

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That's the worry Fine Gael ministers have as we approach Budget season.

In the normal course of politics, Opposition parties stump up their spending proposals a few days before the actual budget and nobody pays very much attention - least of all the sitting Minister for Finance who is busy compiling the real deal.

However, in the new scenario Fianna Fáil got a series of high-level promises from Fine Gael in exchange for facilitating the minority government.

The question now is whether it stands back and allows Michael Noonan a "free pass" provided that he sticks to the spirit of their bilateral agreement?

"No chance," said one Fianna Fáil source. "All that is agreed is three budgets in principle, not the detail."

But this does create something of an unprecedented situation whereby Mr Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe will have to navigate their way through a Cabinet propped up by Independents and an Opposition party who can bring the whole thing crumbling down if they see fit.

It's a no-win situation. The Independents have to be bought off and Fianna Fáil is already positioning itself to claim credit for any 'good news' stories such as an increase in the pension.

If Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar doesn't agree to the €5 increase, he will come off as an Ebenezer Scrooge character.

Remember ex-Tánaiste Joan Burton thought she would win widespread praise for negotiating a €3 hike last year and she still hasn't been forgiven by many of the 'measly' increase.

The budget talks will be a real test for 'new politics'. The Dáil has been promised more power than every before, with a Budget Committee to be heavily involved.

Since his re-election, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has tended to take the safe option when faced with confrontation that threatens the viability of the Government.

Fine Gael bottled it on Irish Water, allowed the Independents a free vote on abortion and has begun abstaining on Private Members Motions even when it doesn't agree with them.

Ministers speaking to the Irish Independent in recent days are acutely aware that they can't roll over to Micheál Martin in the coming weeks.

Giving Fianna Fáil its way might ensure that the Budget gets an easy passage through the Dáil - but ultimately it might move Micheál Martin closer to calling a General Election.

Irish Independent

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