Sunday 25 March 2018

Will this outburst of violence have poll implications for the parties?

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan Photo: Gerry Mooney
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan Photo: Gerry Mooney
John Downing

John Downing

Come polling day on February 26, dear voter, who are you going to trust on restoring law and order? Fine Gael and Labour's stewardship of justice issues in government saw them stumble from one crisis to another over the last five years. But then again, Fianna Fáil had earlier shut the Garda College in Templemore - beginning a dramatic reduction in numbers.

And then you have Sinn Féin who, even in these violent times, would shut the Special Criminal Court and would get rid of anti-terror laws, all of which are also a legacy issue of theirs and their IRA cousins.

When you put things like that, we're not exactly spoiled for choice when you assess the four larger parties going into this election.

The ferocity and sheer effrontery of last Friday's attack at the Regency Hotel was a major step-up and an affront to all decent citizens. The brutality and swiftness of the reprisal killing on Monday kept up the pace of horror and terror in the centre of Dublin.

The Government's and Garda Commissioner's equivocation and initial low-energy responses did not inspire confidence. The promises on Tuesday - to put more armed Garda units on the streets of Dublin - did claw back some ground, Garda union complaints notwithstanding.

But Fine Gael and Labour will hope that things go quiet from now on.

More violent incidents involving these rampant gangsters would not help a febrile situation seem under control.

Yes, there are those close to Fine Gael who will tell you that this is an opportunity for them to reassert their credentials as the "party of law and order". By that line of argument, there could even be a voter dividend.

This may be true to some extent. But it depends on things stabilising - something that is not directly in the outgoing Government's control.

Just a week ago few people would have predicted two murders in four days.

Fianna Fáil people feel they are in a better place, despite the Garda recruitment ban, which happened on their watch in 2009 due to acute lack of funds. They can argue that the outgoing government had five years to pick up these issues and that even now it remains the government responsible for the ongoing response.

Their Justice Spokesman, Niall Collins, has also been sure-footed and unequivocal from the start in his reaction to this situation. He can well argue that in times past the party never pulled back from radical and hard-hitting action on law and order.

They have been gifted a very poor stance by Sinn Féin - who even now insist that they would persist with the abolition of the Special Criminal Court.

This has allowed Fianna Fáil a rare opportunity to put very clear distance between themselves and Sinn Féin after months of Fine Gael beating a drum warning that the pair would easily coalesce after this election.

Gerry Adams insists these law and order issues are "not coming up on the doors". It is among middle-class voters, disenchanted and open to persuasion, that Sinn Féin hope to make ground.

These people will not argue law and order with Sinn Féin canvassers. They will quietly make their own decisions in the privacy of the polling booth.

Irish Independent

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