Friday 23 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: Even if deal is done, now all parties are in election mode

Staff begin counting votes at Trinity College for the election of the new Seanad. Photo: Sam Boal/
Staff begin counting votes at Trinity College for the election of the new Seanad. Photo: Sam Boal/
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A bit like Christmas, election fever has gripped the nation a bit sooner than anybody wanted.

The events of recent days mean the hard-fought ‘Confidence and Supply’ agreement, which gave us the minority Government, is dead.

Trust is broken and even if we get past the current row over Frances Fitzgerald’s suitability for office, things just can’t go back to the way they were.

Minds are now focused on polling day and whether Micheál Martin can force Leo Varadkar out of office.

Of course, such is the precarious nature of the current Dáil that work has been under way to prepare for the election for some time.

On the surface at least, Fianna Fáil seems ahead in terms of planning, but Fine Gael ramped up its efforts significantly in the past week.

Even before this controversy erupted, Mr Martin’s party had already completed 12 selection conventions around the country, with four more on the verge of being wrapped up.

Fianna Fáil’s National Constituency Committee met at the weekend to plot for a snap election – although sources say the meeting was kept “low key” as it didn’t want to antagonise the situation. 

Fine Gael held a more high-profile gathering of its National Executive as it had to be seen to actively get back in the organisational race.

At that point, the party had candidates selected in just three constituencies. The plan is to have another 18 completed by tonight and all 40 by the end of the week.

While in some ways the rush makes life easier on headquarters by removing the time for people to get upset, the unexpected timing brings logistical changes.

Parties were planning based on the changes recommended by the Constituency Commission. It added an extra two TDs to the Dáil and reduced the number of constituencies by one.

“The ‘snap election’ does alter things but we’ll be able to adjust,” said a Fianna Fáil source. “We’ve a good sense of where we’re at and what we want to target.”

Few expected Mr Martin’s party to win 44 seats last year, leaving him within touching distance of Enda Kenny’s 50. In fact, Fianna Fáil feels it left a few seats behind, particularly in the capital, including in Dublin South Central and Dublin North West.

One of the accusations faced afterwards was that the party didn’t run enough candidates to take advantage of its renewal and Fine Gael’s energy-sapped campaign.

“You’ll never have a perfect election campaign but we were pretty happy last time,” said a senior source.

It ran 72 candidates and isn’t aspiring much higher this time around. According to insiders, it is looking at in the region of 77 names on ballots if the election is called in the coming days or weeks.

“Since 1997, the policy has been to run tight tickets,” a source said.

In Fine Gael, the theory is that it can’t possibly do as badly as last year with Mr Kenny at the helm.

He kick-started the campaign by insulting the electorate by saying he wouldn’t discuss economic jargon and went on to describe the people of Castlebar, Co Mayo, as “whingers”.

That, combined with a ‘Keep The Recovery Going’ slogan, meant it lost 26 seats compared with 2011.

Richard Bruton has led a committee that has been working diligently on a manifesto since Leo Varadkar took over as leader.

It’s only in its “first iteration” and was to be updated on a rolling basis but sources say the mock-ups were ready to be printed if need be.

Whatever happens now, the election is coming in the short term and all the parties know it. Minister of State Jim Daly had a great line from one constituent who told him at the weekend the only ‘poll’ she wants to hear about in the coming weeks is the North Pole.

But even if a band aid can hold the Government together over Christmas, all sides are now on an election footing.

Online Editors

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