Wednesday 21 November 2018

Election theatre will go on until curtain falls one way or the other

Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

It is unlikely that Ireland's commitment to space exploration was forefront in the minds of many people in the wake of Budget 2019, but that wasn't going to stop John Halligan.

The Minister for Space (of sorts) was extolling the virtues of the €500,000 he had secured for Ireland's involvement in international space programmes at his post-Budget press briefing.

He hopes for further investment and another "six or seven months" at least in power due to the threat of Brexit.

Not the most ambitious of targets for a minister who is part of a Government whose leader has expressed hope for another two years based on the continued goodwill of Fianna Fáil.

But perhaps it was something of a realistic hope; back on Earth, there is a growing sense that the current Government is not long for this world.

Independent Minister Katherine Zappone drew laughter as she pondered - aloud - what the next likely step would be.

The likelihood of an election tends to waver in and out of focus with each day.

But at this moment, in a refreshingly upfront manner, she conceded she wouldn't be surprised if the country found itself going to the polls by the end of the year. She hopes not, by the way, but she is ready.

Being ready for an election is the default setting of every politician, but it may become a more pressing demand sooner than some might have hoped.

Speculation about when the next election will be is the most preoccupying of preoccupations in Leinster House, so it is perhaps no surprise that Tuesday's underwhelming Budget has led to an overwhelming sense that the countdown to the next election is well and truly on.

That had, in truth, started almost as soon as the Budget speech concluded with Fine Gael minister Regina Doherty joking about being in front of journalists next year if the confidence and supply deal could be worked out.

The Halloween deadline to conclude the talks on renewing the confidence and supply deal set by the Taoiseach was already seen as a non-runner by some in Fianna Fáil.

They don't like a deadline, preferring instead to stay in a grey area where there is more room to manoeuvre, one TD observed wryly.

Delivering his assessment on the Budget, Micheál Martin accused Fine Gael's young, high-profile ministers, Simon Harris and Eoghan Murphy, of wanting to "run to the country as quickly as possible because they are scared they will be found out".

Leo Varadkar too had tried to engineer an election. "No party has a divine right to power - no matter how much time it spends praising itself," he warned an essentially empty chamber.

Games needed to be put aside, he asserted, but with an almost empty row of seats across from him, it felt a bit theatrical all the same.

And the show is likely to continue in the coming days until the curtain falls decidedly one way or the other.

Irish Independent

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