Thursday 13 December 2018

Broadband row is a reason for FF to call election - but there are two things playing on Micheál Martin's mind

FF leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
FF leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

IT STARTED out as an episode of ‘Come Dine with the Minister’ but has turned into ‘Hell’s Kitchen’.

Leinster House is used to days of high drama but by 3pm on Thursday afternoons, the building tends to have emptied out.

Rural TDs head for their constituencies and there is rarely a senior minister to be seen.

That peace was shattered as Denis Naughten took to his feet to reveal “the Taoiseach does not have confidence in me”. All hell broke out as Leo Varadkar consulted with key ministers including Simon Coveney and Paschal Donohoe on how to react.

As members of all parties raced back to Leinster House, the whispers started: ‘Will Varadkar use this as an excuse to bring down his own government?’

Those close to the discussions in Government Buildings say this was never considered as an option – but they worried about how Fianna Fáil might react.

With a review of the existing confidence and supply arrangement due to begin any day now, the option is open to Micheál Martin to collapse the tent on this circus.

The National Broadband Plan is arguably the most vital piece of infrastructure needed right now.

The roll-out of high-speed internet to more than 500,000 homes, businesses and schools has already been mired by delays and the drop-out of potential suppliers. The scheme is now in total chaos.

In the Dáil, Micheál Martin showed no sign of calling an election just now. Two things are playing on his mind. Firstly, most of the measures announced in Tuesday’s Budget have not yet been formally passed.

And, perhaps more importantly, Leo Varadkar will represent Ireland at a key EU summit on Brexit next week.

If he were to go as a caretaker Taoiseach from a scandal-hit government, the British may feel emboldened to push back against a deal on the Border.

However, TDs on all sides agree that numbers now make an election inevitable in the short-term.

In the past fortnight, the Government has lost a Fine Gael backbencher, an Independent minister and the support of an Opposition TD. The Budget will still pass, with the help of Michael Lowry, but the situation is unsustainable.

Ultimately, Fianna Fáil must realise that whatever about housing and health, broadband would be a brilliant issue to go to the country on – and one for which Fine Gael-led governments are entirely to blame.

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