Tuesday 15 October 2019

FG ministers fear broadband plan furore damaging party's support

Support for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s party stands at less than 30pc according to two opinion polls at the weekend. Photo: Frank McGrath
Support for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s party stands at less than 30pc according to two opinion polls at the weekend. Photo: Frank McGrath
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Fine Gael ministers fear the controversy over the cost of the rural broadband rollout is damaging the party's election chances in urban areas.

Support for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's party stands at less than 30pc according to two opinion polls at the weekend as he faces his first electoral test as leader.

Ambitions of overtaking Fianna Fáil as the largest party in local government are being reined in as ministers have begun to spin any increase in council seats by the Government party as a "win" after polling day on Friday.

The highly controversial National Broadband Plan (NBP) has been identified as one issue hurting Fine Gael. The State is expecting to invest up to €3bn to ensure every premises in the country has the opportunity to hook up to high-speed internet, .

Opposition politicians have been severely critical of the plan after the costs emerged last week.

One minister told the Irish Independent he blamed the NBP row for a five-point drop by Fine Gael to 28pc in one poll.

Election: Former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh could cause an upset by winning a European seat in Midlands North-West for Fine Gael. Photo: Brian McEvoy
Election: Former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh could cause an upset by winning a European seat in Midlands North-West for Fine Gael. Photo: Brian McEvoy

He said "urban people don't like the rural broadband plan", adding he suspected the drop in support was happening in the cities "where we were riding very high".

The source still predicted the party will do better than what he termed the "horrendous" 2014 local elections, which came at the height of the protests about water charges.

Another minister said the target of Fine Gael winning 50 extra seats was unlikely to be achieved.

"I think we'll hold what we have. I think we'll add to it. Will we hit 50? Fifty would be a tall order," he said.

He also pointed to broadband as an issue denting support in urban areas.

"Rural people are saying, 'Thank God somebody's finally done it.' It's going to cost a lot of money, but it's going to be done," he said.

He add that households in the cities "don't think it [the €3bn] should be spent at all".

Fine Gael sources argued Mr Varadkar's election performance should be judged more on how Fine Gael does in Europe than in the council elections where government parties are traditionally given a kicking.

The polls show Fine Gael on course to retain four seats in the European Parliament with former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh in the mix for a possible upset in Midlands North-West, where she could win a seat alongside Mairead McGuinness.

One Dublin-based Fine Gael TD said broadband had been raised on doorsteps but said the spiralling cost of the €1.7bn National Children's Hospital was coming up even more frequently. The source expressed concern for what the poll numbers could mean for a general election and the possibility the country could be end up with another minority government. "It's a real problem - there's no surge there that deliver the much-needed extra 10-15 seats," he said.

Fine Gael dropped from 33pc to 28pc in the 'Sunday Business Post'/Red C poll in less than a month.

Fianna Fáil is on 24pc (+1pc); Sinn Féin is on 13pc (-1pc) and Labour stayed the same on 5pc. The Green Party enjoyed a four-point bump to 7pc amid growing public concern over climate change.

Eamon Ryan's party also saw a four-point boost to 5pc in the 'Sunday Times'/Behaviour and Attitudes Poll. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were level on 28pc each; Sinn Féin is on 19pc (-2pc) and Labour is unchanged on 4pc.

Speaking on the campaign trail in Mullingar, Mr Varadkar sought to play down the significance of his party's poor showing, saying: "The poll that matters is the poll on Friday when people go out to vote." He urged voters to turn out.

Irish Independent

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