News John Downing

Tuesday 27 September 2016

FF has upped fight but 'Micheál for Taoiseach' sounds a bit far-fetched

Published 08/01/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin with pupils Aoife Rainey, Niamh Daly and Sophie McDevitt from St David’s Secondary School, Co Wicklow, with their project titled ‘Anaerobic digesters at a local level’ at the BT Young Scientist 2016 at the RDS, Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin with pupils Aoife Rainey, Niamh Daly and Sophie McDevitt from St David’s Secondary School, Co Wicklow, with their project titled ‘Anaerobic digesters at a local level’ at the BT Young Scientist 2016 at the RDS, Dublin, yesterday. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

'Vote Fianna Fáil - and help phase one of our two-phase recovery." Not even the notorious 'Mad Men' could fashion a zingy slogan from the underlying thinking which led the once "natural party of government" to effectively consign itself to opposition - even before this election campaign properly began.

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You cannot fight a General Election on an unspoken signal that it is about "muddling through".

The added implied resolution, that you will have "a right go" in the next one, does not cut any ice with voters contemplating the coming five years.

But the reality is that was the implication of the messages emanating from Fianna Fáil up to now in the "phoney war" phase of the election, expected late next month. Granted, the realpolitik admission just seven weeks ago by the party's director of elections, Billy Kelleher, that 40 Dáil seats would be a good result, had a number of pluses.

It had a ring of honesty and was ambitious when you consider it would nearly double the party's current Dáil representation. But it put a lot of lead into Fianna Fáil canvassers' boots as it offered little to the ordinary voter who needs to hear what is in this election for them.

Party leader Micheál Martin took this conundrum head-on yesterday in what turned out to be a very engaging radio interview with RTÉ's Seán O'Rourke. In the opening few seconds, he had stated his ambition to be Taoiseach.

"I'm leading the Fianna Fáil party as an alternative to a Fine Gael-led government," he said simply. He attacked the growing assumption that Enda Kenny was the only potential Taoiseach out there and launched a good old-fashioned attack on the outgoing Coalition.

Fine Gael was right-wing, promising US tax rates which could only mean US-style inequality. The current health services mess was a great example of how the Coalition destroyed public services. Labour utterly failed to put the brakes on Fine Gael's right-wing approach to Government.

The man got a response within the hour. On a visit to Leyden in Netherlands, the Taoiseach gave his would-be supplanter both barrels. In summary, Mr Kenny said this was desperate stuff from Mr Martin. It overlooked how Fianna Fáil utterly destroyed the country's economy and was an effort to hide the ongoing bitter row between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Clearly, Martin had rattled the Kenny cage.

Annoying the "government crowd" is always a useful thing to do. Better again if you can get the Taoiseach's dander up.

But we must still ask how realistic Mr Martin's new-found claim can be? Can Fianna Fáil be the biggest party in the next Dáil?

And the frank answer to that one right now must be: No.

Can an enhanced Fianna Fáil somehow pull together an "Anybody But Fine Gael" coalition? Again, it must be No - as long as the party insists it will not ally with Sinn Féin after the election.

It is as yet unclear how many of the Independents could make common cause with Fianna Fáil. But, even at the most optimistic estimate, that looks a forlorn hope.

Mr Martin again continues to insist his party will not share government with Fine Gael, as he will continue to do throughout the upcoming campaign.

Fianna Fáil may get points for upping the fight, especially from traditional supporters. But 'Martin for Taoiseach' is a huge long-shot.

Irish Independent

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