November election looms as Enda ticks all the boxes
Public-sector pay deal is just the latest sign the Taoiseach is ready to go to the country early
When Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed Fianna Fail's newly elected TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, Bobby Aylward, to the Dail last Tuesday, he did it with a mischievous glint in his eye and a jovial quip that he "shouldn't put his posters up too high in the hay shed because he might have to get them out before spring 2016".
While the remark may have been made in jest, a growing number of significant factors could well see Mr Kenny go to the country in a bid for re-election as early as this November.
The Government's determination to conclude pay talks with the public-sector unions with agreement on the phasing out of the unpopular pension levy and pay increases of up to €1,000 a year for lower paid workers is, according to seasoned political observers, just the latest indication that the general election is imminent.
That deal came hot on the heels of what the same observers regard as a signal that polling will take place before this year is over. Hailed as a "significant breakthrough" by her predecessor, Ruari Quinn, Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan secured a deal on Junior Cycle reform with the ASTI and TUI. With both unions pledging to hold a ballot of their members "as early as practicable in autumn 2015", the Taoiseach should be confident he will have secured industrial peace from the teachers before he goes looking for votes.
And, if he hasn't been buoyed up further by last weekend's endorsement by the public of the same-sex marriage referendum, the drop just days earlier in unemployment to 9.9pc and Fine Gael's steady resurgence in the opinion polls, Mr Kenny can look to several other cards that are all poised to fall his way in the coming months, making a November election his best bet.
First up is the expected conclusion in September of the Banking Inquiry and the delivery of its report soon after. Where critics of the inquiry have carped that its hearings have revealed little beyond what the public already knew in relation to the causes and circumstances surrounding our economic collapse, the publication of the Banking Inquiry's final report will give Mr Kenny and his Government the perfect opportunity to remind us all that the Fianna Fail of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen were the ones responsible for it.
September should also see the first of Ireland's gay marriages taking place following the passing of the necessary legislation by the Dail. While this won't necessarily offer any electoral benefit to Fine Gael's traditionally conservative constituency, it will provide a timely boost to its current and preferred coalition partners, the Labour Party.
Having reminded us all of the damage done by Fianna Fail, October's budget will see finance minister Michael Noonan outline how Fine Gael in government has lifted the country out of the abyss and is now in the process of relieving the harsh austerity measures imposed on taxpayers since 2008. Adjustments to income tax and the hated USC will be given to win over workers in both the private and public sectors.
Public servants will also begin to see the benefits in October's budget of the Government's commitment to phase out the pension levy and an increase in earnings for the lower paid within their cohort. This should help shore up support for Labour particularly, and bring the party within striking distance of securing sufficient seats to go back into coalition with Fine Gael after the election.
Where some political experts expressed the view to the Sunday Independent that the Taoiseach will call the election once Mr Noonan's concludes his budget speech, this suggestion was dismissed by others on the grounds that the Government will ensure that the budget's social welfare measures are passed by the Oireachtas first. This, according to one political veteran, won't take place until the end of October.
With October all but ruled out of the election equation, November has emerged as the most likely month for Mr Kenny to launch his bid to become the first leader of Fine Gael to win two terms as Taoiseach in a row.
One experienced political analyst who spoke to the Sunday Independent said apart from the factors which count against an election being held in any of the months between this December and April of next year, a November campaign would give Fine Gael an added advantage in fighting off the threat posed by Sinn Fein's popularity.
"With November, the nights are already long which rules out politicians going door-to-door to canvass. That means a lot of the campaign will be confined to debating on TV and radio where Fine Gael will easily outgun Sinn Fein on the detail," the analyst said.
December is unlikely to find favour with the Taoiseach in terms of running for election given that its Christmas. And with people picking up the tab for the festivities and receiving the first bills for 2016 in January, that month can be ruled out too.
That still leaves February, March and April as possibilities, but all three can probably be ruled out for three very different reasons.
February, according to one successful political veteran who told the Sunday Independent he "studied these things", is acknowledged as the country's "worst month weather wise going back 100 years". With long-term forecasts already predicting a cold winter to come with a risk of snow, it would be a major risk for the Taoiseach to go to the country in February. An Arctic blast would not be conducive to campaigning.
March can also be ruled out as it's the month in which the Taoiseach is hosted at the White House, while his ministers fan out across the globe to promote Ireland. Attempting to run a general election campaign in the same month would be foolish.
While the Government must call an election within 25 days of the fifth anniversary of the first sitting of the 31st Dail on March 9, 2011, holding an election in early April while the country marks the centenary of the 1916 Rising seems unlikely. This is because of the Government's insistence that the commemorations will belong to the Irish people as opposed to any one political party or grouping.