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Independent.ie

Saturday 18 August 2018

Opinion: Politicos heading for the country is clear sign that an election is coming

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Tom Burke
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Just when us country folk thought it was safe to go out and about - they're back! And they've got you all in mind because, any way you look at it, another general election does beckon.

Yes, our politicians are limbering up for the Dáil's return a fortnight tomorrow. Now, oddly enough, that is a date which clashes with those ploughing matches back again at Screggan, Tullamore. To some that's a lamentable fixture clash - but let's move on.

Before they go back to the big house in Kildare Street, Dublin, the politicians have their so-called "think-ins." It was Bertie Ahern who pioneered these type of gatherings as Fianna Fáil leader from 1994 onwards.

Originally, they were an opportunity to boost team spirit, allowing backbench TDs and Senators a chance to mingle and chat with the party's heavy-hitters, be they ministers or front-bench spokespeople.

Soon they became more choreographed with a lot of media involvement and photo opportunities.

Time there was, when these gatherings were more dedicated to the alcohol god, Bacchus, than to Plato or any other political philosopher. But a few celebrated incidents put a damper on that late-night carry-on for a time at least.

But let's not digress too much. Tomorrow Sinn Féin will gather at a motorway hotel just south of Drogheda, a venue which seems to suit participants from both sides of the border.

On Thursday it is the turn of the fledgling Social Democrats in Dublin.

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But the venues for the following three get-togethers tell us something very direct about those parties' very specific political intent.

Labour are in the Clanard Court Hotel, just outside Athy, next Sunday and Monday.

Apart from anything else, the location is a direct statement that they want Cllr Mark Wall, son of the celebrated former Labour TD, Jack Wall, to win back that seat in newly-expanded, four-seat, Kildare South.

The Walls are, like many provincial Labour activists, very keen to be seen as the Fianna Fáil end of Labour with good GAA links. But it will be an uphill struggle.

Fine Gael head to the Minella Hotel, just outside Clonmel, on Thursday and Friday of next week.

They're also making a statement that they want a seat in one of Ireland's prime farming counties, where they astonishingly have not got a single TD at present.

Finally, just before the Dáil reconvenes, Fianna Fáil will repair to Longford, their former leader and Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds's old stomping ground.

Here again, they cannot see why they should have no TD in Longford at present.

Back at Leinster House, politics is going to liven up as the silly season winds down. Already, the "first-up best-dressed" Budget battles have begun, with each minister vying for a slice of a diminished pie.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe presents his first Budget on Tuesday, October 10. That is a bare five weeks away.

This year there are relatively speaking just pennies and halfpennies to spare out of a total State spend of €60bn for 2018.

This is mainly due to EU obligations to balance the books.

But in the following years, there will be big money to spend.

Will Fianna Fáil continue their government support arrangements and allow Fine Gael spend the largesse before an election.

Unlikely, I believe. Smart money is now on the forthcoming Budget being the last one with an election next year.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent


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